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Uniform policy for pesticides

Ongoing efforts to reduce the use of pesticides for cosmetic use got another boost this week, as the Ontario government announced more than 250 products will be banned effective Apr. 22.

The ban prohibits the sale and use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes on lawns, gardens, parks and school yards, and includes many herbicides, fungicides and insecticides
There are exceptions for public health or safety reasons such as fighting West Nile Virus, killing stinging insects like wasps, or controlling poison ivy and other plants poisonous to the touch. Other exceptions include agriculture and forestry.

The ban takes the place of existing municipal pesticide bylaws, which surfaced in the region after years of debate. The move applies uniform rules across the province.

Local discussions leading up to a Waterloo Region bylaw that came into effect in 2007 took years to arrive at something resembling a consensus. Even then, there were concerns about jurisdiction, with the region calling it a health issue and the seven municipalities chafing over what was perceived as a lower-tier matter.

The region’s goal is to reduce the use of pesticides – herbicides, insecticides and fungicides – employed for largely cosmetic purposes. The largest target is lawn spraying, which some health experts say poses long-term exposure risks.

A recent Suzuki Foundation report outlines the acute risks of having pesticides around the house.

“The mere presence of pesticides in a home, garage, or garden creates a risk to homeowners and children, as does the application of pesticides,” says the report. “Governments should ban the use and sale of cosmetic pesticides on lawns and gardens to eliminate a probable source of many of these poisonings.”

The McGuinty government obviously agrees.

Still, there are plenty of green-lawn enthusiasts who will balk at any restrictions on how they go about tending to their own land.

There is the straightforward conflict between those who make arguments against the widespread use of herbicides simply to make golf course turf of neighbourhood lawns and those who advocate the control of noxious weeds.

Many communities with bylaws compelling residents to maintain weed-free lots have been backing away from such stringent requirements, in some cases choosing not to spray public lands. Those offended by the sight of dandelions rampant, aided by the lawn-care companies, have been quick to oppose moving further along the continuum from choice to a ban on spraying.

Caught between commerce and health concerns, politicians face a difficult sales job either way.

The region’s campaign started with public education: the surest way to tackle the problem is to convince people there are alternatives to spraying chemicals on their lawns. Alternative plantings exist to the typical stretch of grass; bio-friendly treatments exist; some old-fashioned elbow grease will do the trick. Less likely is convincing people the scourge of dandelions is desirable, as anyone passing by public parks and along most roadways knows, the view is hardly pleasing.

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