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Pesticides are chemicals used to kill or control insects, plants, animals or other pests.

Pesticides are often used because pests can affect our health, safety or food supply. This use of pesticides is called non-cosmetic because it’s needed for public health and safety.

Pesticides are also used to make lawns, gardens and other green spaces look better. We call this use cosmetic because it’s not needed for health and safety.

Much of the evidence on the health risk of pesticides comes from studies that examine cancer risk among workers who use pesticides as part of their job. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies a small number of pesticides as known carcinogens and a few others as possible carcinogens. Many of these pesticides are no longer used in Canada.

For most pesticides studied, research does not show a definite link with human cancer, but it does suggest a possible connection with a number of cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and prostate, testicular, pancreatic, lung and non-melanoma skin cancers. Studies of pesticides and childhood cancer show a possible connection with leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Read about our perspective on the cosmetic and non-cosmetic use of pesticides.

Learn more about guidelines for using pesticides around your home.

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