A cosmetic-pesticide ban may be looming, but Manitoba is using more chemicals to kill weeds along rural roads, in parks and school grounds and on fairways than it did two years ago.
Even though the NDP government long-ago signalled it wanted to ween the province off weed- and bug-killing chemicals, virtually no weed district, municipality or golf course used "green" products last summer.
That's according to a database created by the Free Press, which was given access to roughly 280 annual spray reports submitted to Manitoba Conservation by pesticide permit-holders. Those permit-holders include weed-control districts, towns and rural municipalities, Manitoba Hydro and MTS, rail companies, golf courses, schools and health districts. The database doesn't cover farms or private homes, but it still offers the only measurable snapshot available of the province's pesticide use.
Last summer, roughly 202,000 litres of concentrated pesticides were sprayed on publicly used land, enough to fill nearly 1,300 bathtubs with undiluted chemicals. That's up slightly from 2011.
Another 190,000 kilograms of solid weed and insect killer were deployed. That's up considerably -- 66 per cent from 2011, but some of that includes relatively harmless products such as the wood preservative used by Manitoba Hydro on power lines or the natural larviciding products the city uses to kill mosquitoes.
This spring, the province followed Ontario, Quebec and several other provinces and passed its version of a cosmetic-pesticide ban that covers homeowners' lawns and well as daycare, school and hospital grounds. The ban begins in 2015, but there will be a grace period.
Manitoba hasn't yet released the list of banned products, but it will likely echo Ontario's, which includes common active ingredients such as 2,4-D, glyphosate and mecoprop and brand names such as Par III, Tordon and Vantage as well as in Roundup.
Nearly three-quarters of all the liquid pesticides used by permit-holders last summer are ones likely to be banned next year for cosmetic use. But, it's unlikely the province will see a huge drop in what pesticide permit-holders spray.
Most of the major users are golf courses, which are exempt from the ban. Or, they are weed-control districts, tasked with controlling noxious weeds such as knapweed, purple loosestrife and leafy spurge along rural roads and ditches to keep those from wafting into farmers' fields, crowding out crops and damaging yields. Most of the work of weed-control districts will continue despite the cosmetic-spray ban.
Still, rural weed-control experts are worried about the fine print, and are waiting for more details from the province.
"There's concern over whether it will impact our ability to address new invasive species," said Kent Shewfelt, president of the Manitoba Weed Supervisors Association.
Shewfelt wonders what will happen if, for example, a particularly virulent patch of noxious weeds is spotted on a baseball field. Will the weed-control district have the ability to use the traditional chemicals to destroy the patch, even though it's in an area where the cosmetic ban applies?
Some pesticide users who would clearly be captured by the cosmetic ban, including hospitals and schools, have already begun curbing their use.
Others haven't. Last summer, the River East Transcona School Division used nearly 400 litres of herbicides banned in Ontario and recently issued a public notice this month it would again be spraying Par III to combat dandelions and glyphosate along fencelines, around playground structures and on asphalt surfaces. Much of that spraying will be outlawed next year under the province's new rules.
Most towns and RMs also haven't begun to consider how they'll deal with the cosmetic ban -- which will likely force them to stop spraying for weeds on baseball diamonds, in parks and perhaps along ditches leading into town.
Cheryl Young, chief administrative officer for the Town of Carman, said her public works staff haven't yet begun to grapple with how the cosmetic ban might affect normal summer operations. Last year, the town used about 155 litres of pesticides likely to be outlawed next summer.
Young said town councillors have already raised concerns about the impact of the cosmetic ban.
"They're worried about whether we'll be able to get as good a treatment for the same price," said Young.
That's a fair worry, and one of many that rural weed-control experts have about the looming ban.
Shewfelt, who also runs the Louise-Roblin Weed Control District, says green products such as Fiesta can be used to replace big brand-name herbicides such as Premium 3-Way. But, Premium 3-Way costs less than $50 per hectare while Fiesta costs more $1,300 and often needs to be reapplied a few times. That could have a serious impact on municipal budgets, especially smaller, rural ones.