The Canadian Cancer Society is very concerned about the use of potentially cancer-causing pesticides for cosmetic purposes. Because of their potential for harm and because cosmetic pesticides do not provide any health benefits, we propose that municipal and provincial governments implement policies to ban their sale and use.
Our position is based on the precautionary principle, which states “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” Although the links between pesticide exposure and cancer are not yet conclusive, the body of evidence is persuasive enough to warrant the adoption of significant protective measures to limit public exposure to pesticides wherever possible.
The “cosmetic use” of pesticides refers to the use of pest control products for improving the appearance of non-agricultural green spaces such as lawns, gardens and sports fields as well as for controlling pests in and around the home. The term “cosmetic pesticides”, refers to a group of pest control products developed and sold for uses that would be deemed cosmetic.
Municipalities can prohibit the use of cosmetic pesticides, however only provinces have the jurisdiction to ban the sale of these products. Therefore, both levels of government need to take action.
Current state of cosmetic pesticide policy in Alberta
In 2010 the Alberta Government prohibited the sale and use of herbicide-fertilizer combination products, often referred to as ‘weed and feed’. More comprehensive legislation is still required to adequately protect Albertans from unnecessary exposure to cosmetic pesticides.
Outlined below is the current status of this issue in other Alberta municipalities:
Grande Prairie is the only municipality in Alberta that has a partial ban on cosmetic pesticide use. In 2008, their council voted to stop the cosmetic use of pesticides on select city grounds, exempting high traffic sports fields and two city parks.
Calgary and Edmonton
The issue of cosmetic pesticide use has been visited by both Calgary and Edmonton city councils at various times. Although significant measures have been considered in both municipalities (Calgary 2009, Edmonton 2012), neither city has implemented a ban or any regulation that would significantly reduce exposure to cosmetic pesticides.
In 2013, the Edmonton Public School Board amended policy to eliminate the application of cosmetic pesticides on school property, including playing fields. The amendment allows for use of less toxic pest-management products (permitted for residential use in Canadian provinces with cosmetic pesticide bans,) to control noxious weed infestations.
Current state of cosmetic pesticide policy in Canada
The first cosmetic pesticide ban was implemented in Hudson, Quebec in 1991 at the urging of Dr. June Irwin, a local dermatologist, who noticed a connection between her patients’ health conditions and their exposure to pesticides. Since then, over 170 Canadian communities and seven provinces have implemented some form of cosmetic pesticide policy, including:
New Brunswick (2009)
Nova Scotia (2011)
Newfoundland and Labrador (2012)
Of the seven provinces only Ontario and Nova Scotia have legislation that is considered sufficiently strong to significantly reduce cosmetic pesticide exposure.