[The late Nicole Bruinsma, founding member of ACRE, was posthumously awarded the 2002 prestigious People's Choice Gold Environmental Health Award for her work with the Municipality of Chelsea in banning pesticides.]
On a winter's day in 1999, Nicole Bruinsma stood in front of a community gathering in Chelsea, Quebec. Bruinsma addressed the audience of 200 not only as a mother and a breast-cancer survivor but as the family physician of many in attendance. She hadn't sought the spotlight. In fact, Bruinsma didn't particularly enjoy occupying centre stage.
But the personal had become political. A year earlier, at the age of 38, Bruinsma had been diagnosed with breast cancer. That diagnosis, which coincided with no known risk factors, had triggered a fact-finding mission about environmental causes of human illness. The scientific literature on pesticides, in particular, was full of alarming information: evidence of potent neurological effects; an absence of carcinogen testing for the 7,000 products regulated in Canada; and the presence of ingredients that had been approved in the 1950s, long before their effects were known.
These discoveries inspired Bruinsma to speak out that night against the cosmetic use of pesticides, and it was a speech that galvanized the community of 6,000. Within a year, in response to a groundswell of support led by Action Chelsea for Respect of the Environment, Chelsea had passed a bylaw banning the use of pesticides to achieve flawless urban landscapes.
Nicole Bruinsma died in February 2002 of metastatic disease, but her legacy of the Chelsea ban has paved the way for dozens of other Canadian cities.