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This article was published 3/8/2016 (1166 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
To the surprise of many, the recently elected provincial government has reopened the public debate on Manitoba’s regulations on cosmetic pesticides.
The provincial regulations, which banned the use of chemical herbicides on lawns and public properties used by children, came into effect less than two years ago. Last month, the province initiated the public consultation process by posting an email and online survey allowing Manitobans to weigh in on the ban. It is important to remember these regulations were set up to protect the health of Manitobans, particularly their children.
Municipalities and provinces began banning the use and/or sale of cosmetic pesticides almost two decades ago in response to concerns expressed by citizens about the serious health impacts that appeared to be associated with cosmetic pesticide use.
While companies do conduct laboratory tests on active ingredients in pesticide products to get them approved for sale, those tests are far from perfect. They do not, for example, always pick up on chronic health impacts associated with long-term exposures. They do not pick up serious health effects that can result from subtle changes in the hormone or immune systems of humans. They are seldom conducted on the mixture of chemicals contained in each pesticide product.
For these reasons, studies are used by researchers to identify health problems resulting from exposures people experience in real life. Thousands of epidemiological studies have been directed at pesticides. In 2012, the Ontario College of Family Physicians conducted a systematic review of pesticide research published after 2003. After closely examining 142 studies, they found pesticide exposures were associated with adverse reproductive effects (e.g. low birth weights), measurable deficits in the neurodevelopment of children (e.g. deficits in mental and/or motor development), and respiratory diseases in children and adults (e.g. asthma). In many, the adverse effects observed in children were related to the exposure of their mothers during pregnancy or to their exposures early in life.
The reviewers concluded steps should be taken by individuals and communities to minimize pesticide exposures for all members of society — and for pregnant women and children in particular. They also noted previous bans directed at worrisome pesticides have been effective at reducing both the health risks in children and the frequency with which pesticides were detected in samples collected from children and the environment.
As health professionals, we weigh the health risks identified against the health benefits associated with their use.
We recognize there may be times when the health benefits associated with the use of a pesticide may outweigh the health risks associated with them, although even in those cases we would ask ourselves if there were safer alternatives. In the case of cosmetic pesticides, where the purpose is to guarantee a pristine lawn or garden, we feel the health risks to our children must take precedence.
Kim Perrotta is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and has worked on environmental-health issues for more than 30 years. John Howard is the chairman of the CAPE board and a pediatric gastroenterologist who practised medicine in London, Ont., for 31 years.