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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 Saskatchewan
Currently in Saskatchewan there isn’t any provincial legislation that restricts the use of cosmetic pesticides. More comprehensive legislation is required to adequately protect Saskatchewan residents from unnecessary exposure to cosmetic pesticides.
Two Saskatchewan municipalities have applied some protection but more needs to be done.
According to the latest report of September 12, 2013 to the Secretary, Administration and Finance Committee on the pesticide reduction and awareness campaign, Saskatoon has not applied herbicides to turf and sports fields since 2004. Saskatoon continues to reduce its dependency on pesticides and participates in a public education program with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.
Saskatoon’s position on the use of pesticides has been in place since 2004.
Clause 1, Report No.15-2013 (PDF)
This report states,
Through the work of the Parks branch, the City has been a leader in discontinuing the use of herbicides. The City of Saskatoon has been herbicide free on turf and sports fields since 2004. Furthermore, the City is committed to the use of the least toxic control methods wherever possible to control pests by using an Integrated Pest Management System. The City will only use chemical pesticides when no other effective options are available and will only use the minimum amount that is require. (Report presented to Saskatoon City Council, October 7, 2013).
According to their overview of the current state, the City of Regina has designated 80 herbicide free parks and is committed to reducing the reliance on herbicides as stated within this report which was accepted on March 7, 2013.
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:
Of the seven provinces only Ontario and Nova Scotia have legislation that is considered sufficiently strong to significantly reduce cosmetic pesticide exposure.
Tips to reduce your exposure
Stay indoors with your family and pets if a neighbour or someone else is using pesticides near your home. Keep your windows and outside doors closed.
Ask your neighbour to tell you if pesticides will be sprayed on their lawn. Keep your family – especially your children and pets – away for at least 48 hours from those areas.
Look out for signs posted on green spaces that show they were recently sprayed with pesticides and don’t walk or play in these areas.
If you live, work or play near farming areas where pesticides are used:
- Wait at least 48 hours before going into areas that have been sprayed.
- Ask your community to make sure signs are posted in sprayed areas.
- Stay indoors when pesticides are being applied and keep windows and outside doors closed.
Lawn and garden
Exposure to pesticides should be reduced to the lowest possible level. If pest control is needed for your lawn or garden, try to use safer options. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends the following alternatives:
- Dig out weeds at their roots.
- Keep lawns watered enough but not over-watered – 2 cm of water (less than 1") should be enough. Put a container on your grass when you water to help you measure.
- Never cut more than one-third of the height off your grass. If you do, it may leave your lawn open to weeds and diseases.
- Cut your grass shorter in the spring and then let it grow longer through the summer – this will help make sure strong roots develop.
- Aerate your lawn to allow moisture and nutrients to reach the roots of the grass.
- Rake your lawn with a heavy rake if needed to remove dead grass and roots that can build up above the soil surface.
Pesticide residues on vegetables and fruit
Pesticides are used during the growing season or to store and transport fresh vegetables and fruit. Sometimes traces of pesticides (residues) are left behind. You can reduce and often eliminate pesticide residues on the fresh vegetables and fruit you eat if you:
Wash all fresh vegetables and fruit thoroughly with lots of running water.
Use a small scrub brush to clean the skin of vegetables and fruit if the skin will be eaten – for example, apples, potatoes and cucumbers.
Peel off the outer skin of vegetables and fruit and trim the outer leaves of leafy vegetables, and then wash thoroughly.
Protecting yourself and others at work
Carefully read the product information about pesticides and follow the directions on the label.
Reduce the amount of pesticides used.
Reduce drift and environmental contamination. For example, add a buffer zone – leave a strip of land without pesticides next to a sprayed area. Spray pesticides on days with no wind when the temperature is below 25 degrees Celsius.
Do not use pesticides around children or pets.
Follow work health and safety requirements in your province – for example, when you can return to an area treated with pesticides.
Wear protective equipment (for example, gloves and masks) as recommended on the pesticides label, and remove contact lenses before spraying.
Don’t wear clothing at home that was used while working with pesticides – clothing worn at work should be washed separately and after each use.
Don’t smoke, drink or eat when handling pesticides. Do not rub your eyes or touch your mouth while working with or after using pesticides. Wash your hands immediately after using pesticides.
Never store pesticides near food or drinks.
Never move pesticides into another container from the original one for storage. This will stop you or someone else from mistakenly misusing them. Also, do not throw out the safety instructions from the original label.
Get rid of pesticide containers by following the instructions on the label. Contact the city or town office in your area about getting rid of unused pesticides.
Store pesticides out of children’s reach.
Post signs warning people that an area will be treated with pesticides.
Suggested links for more information about pesticides
General information about pesticides
These websites provide information about the proper use of pesticides for the public and for commercial users, regulations about the use of pesticides in Canada and the US, and how pesticides may affect your health.
Health Canada – Pesticides and Pest Management
National Pesticide Information Center (United States)
Safer alternatives for home and garden
These Health Canada website pages provide information for the public about how to rely less on pesticides to safely maintain lawns, safe alternatives to pesticides, and tips for protecting your family from mosquitoes and other pests.
Protect yourself on the job
These websites provide information for people who may work with pesticides or be exposed to them at work, and tips to safely mix, apply and store pesticides on the job.
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety – Pesticides – Working Safely
World Health Organization – Preventing health risks from the use of pesticides in agriculture
Environmental Protection Agency (US) – Worker Safety and Training
Pesticides and food safety
These websites provide information about how the Canadian government monitors pesticide residues on foods sold to the public.
Health Canada – Pesticides and Food
Pesticide regulations in Canada
These Health Canada website pages provide information about the responsibilities for each branch of government (federal, provincial/territorial, municipal) in regulating pesticide use.
Children, and the environment and cancer
Much of the research on the links between the environment and cancer has focused on exposure in adults. There hasn’t been a lot of research looking at the impact of these links early in life – either before birth or in babies and young children. Finding out about this is important because researchers believe that children may be more vulnerable to substances that may increase the risk of cancer, cause birth defects or interfere with the normal hormonal system in the body. There are several reasons for this:
- Children may absorb more environmental contaminants because they breathe, eat and drink more than adults relative to their body weight.
- Children, especially infants and toddlers, sit more often on the ground and crawl to areas where adults typically don’t go. As they explore, they often put their hands and fingers into their mouths.
- There are periods during normal human development when exposure may pose more harm than during other parts of life. For example, the risk of developing cancer is greater among children exposed to radiation than it is for adults exposed to the same amount of radiation.