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Is your lawn green enough? Manitoba asks for feedback on year-old cosmetic pesticides ban

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 7/22/2016 12:26:00 PM

Manitoba’s new Progressive Conservative government is asking residents to weigh in on the province’s year-old cosmetic pesticides ban, and that has some environmental groups wondering if the ban may eventually be weakened, if not reversed.

When in Opposition, current Premier Brian Pallister argued against a ban. Municipalities feared the additional costs they would bear if they maintained the same level of weed control using costlier and less effective alternatives, and the gardening and landscaping industry feared their customer base would dry up.

“We knew that the agribusiness lobby would be taking the opportunity to try to change the legislation,” Josh Brandon, a spokesperson with Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba, told EcoLog News. “We knew that the association of municipalities in Manitoba was already starting to lobby the new government.”

Manitoba’s legislation is similar to laws in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, restricting or prohibiting the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides on lawns and residential, commercial, government and institutional properties. It also identifies a list of unrestricted pesticides.

Ontario municipalities appear to have adapted to the restrictions, which have been in place since 2009.

“We are not aware of any issues at this time that would indicate that Ontario municipal governments are not managing the provincial regulations well,” says Monika Turner, director of policy at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, in an e-mailed statement to EcoLog News.

In Manitoba, the use of pesticides in agriculture, forestry and for public health or noxious weed control purposes is unaffected which, critics argue, sends a confusing message to the public about whether or not a product is dangerous.

Manitoba is conducting a survey asking respondents about their understanding of the law, whether they have felt an impact and if they support the current restrictions.

“What we have found over the history of CAPE [Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment] when we’ve done these surveys is that we generally find that the public is strongly in support of eliminating these substances once they understand the issue,” CAPE Executive Director Kim Perrotta told EcoLog News.

Cosmetic pesticides are a mixture of several chemicals, she says. It would be impossible to test every mixture against all possible levels of exposure and all potentially vulnerable populations. But there is a solid body of evidence that points to a higher risk of negative health effects — cancers, neuro-developmental disorders, low birth weight, respiratory issues — from high levels of exposure. And there are no public health benefits from a green lawn, she says.

She also says that Ontario did extensive water quality tests in 2008 and after it introduced its ban in 2009. “They found significant decreases in a number of common pesticides in those samples,” she says.

Levels of 2,4-D, for instance, a commonly used lawn pesticide, were down by 81%. “What this is telling us is that the provincial ban had an impact in terms of reducing the amount that was being spread throughout the ecosystem, which is very good,” says Perrotta.

“We’re confident that the majority of Manitobans are on-board with this legislation,” says Brandon. Polling before the ban was implemented showed widespread support, he says. He expects the survey to call for maintaining the legislation, if not strengthening it.

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