ACRE and Chelsea's pesticide bylaw
The following is the full text of ACRE`s November 30, 1999 submission to the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, describing Chelsea's pesticide bylaw and the process by which it came about. At the end are 13 recommendations ACRE would like to see the federal government act on.
"COMMUNITY ACTION AND A PESTICIDE BY-LAW"
submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development November 30, 1999 by ACRE members Dr. Noha Fuad and Andrea Lockwood.
In December 1998 the Municipality of Chelsea passed a by-law which regulates the application of chemical pesticides on property within the territory of the Municipality.
ACRE is a local, not-for-profit, community organization in Chelsea. ACRE's goals are the protection and preservation of a healthy natural environment. ACRE undertakes community-based initiatives such as educational programmes, lobbying and research. ACRE lobbied Chelsea's municipal government for the adoption of the by-law and is monitoring the implementation of the by-law by the municipality.
This brief sets out a history of the passage of the by-law and makes recommendations based on the experience of ACRE's members.
2.0 THE MUNICIPALITY
Chelsea is a semi-rural municipality located in Western Quebec. It is bordered on the east by the Gatineau River, on the south by the urban municipality of Hull, and in the north by the rural municipality of La Pêche. Approximately 75% of Chelsea's land mass is contained within the Gatineau Park. The population of Chelsea is approximately 6,000 people. Many of the residents of Chelsea work in either Ottawa or Hull. According to a survey published in 1999 in the Ottawa Citizen, the per-capita income of Chelsea is the second highest in the Ottawa area, exceeded only by that of Rockcliffe Park.
Chelsea contains no hard industry, 2 golf courses and little land which is zoned agricultural. 100% of the homes in Chelsea are on well and septic systems.
Many residents of Chelsea have chosen to live in the municipality because of its natural environment. Even before 1998, the municipality of Chelsea had adopted a policy of not applying chemical pesticides on public land. The local soccer field was specially designed so that it would not require pesticides.
3.0 GENESIS OF THE BY-LAW
In 1991 the Municipality of Hudson adopted a by-law restricting pesticide use. Residents of Chelsea serving on the municipal Environment Commission began, as of 1991, to investigate the possibility of implementing a similar by-law in Chelsea. The Hudson by-law was challenged by lawn care companies and Chelsea council indicated that it did not wish to pursue a by-law until such time as a decision had been rendered in the Hudson case. An educational and awareness campaign which consisted of posters, stickers and information pamphlets was put in place instead. In retrospect, this campaign was not effective. In the meantime, volunteers involved in the education campaign obtained copies of some by-laws from other municipalities in Quebec which restricted or prohibited the use of pesticides and drafted a first version of a by-law.
In 1993, the Quebec Superior Court upheld the Hudson by-law. Several other municipalities in Quebec passed pesticide by-laws. The lawn care companies appealed the Superior Court decision to the Quebec Court of Appeal.
In the spring of 1998 public consultations were held with respect to the formulation of Chelsea's Master Plan. Participating residents proposed a by-law restricting pesticide use as a means to protect the environment during the Master Plan discussions.
During the same period, Dr. Nicole Bruinsma, a local physician specializing in family medicine and Dr. Kelly Martin from the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario presented a lecture on the possible links between environmental contaminants and breast cancer. The impact on children's health was a prime component of the lecture.
Drs. Bruinsma and Martin pointed out that for those people who are concerned about their health and that of their children, they could voluntarily reduce their exposure to chemicals in the environment, for instance by avoiding certain plastics, electing not to use pesticides and buying organic produce. Members of the audience quickly noted that voluntary reduction of personal chemical use would not be sufficient to prevent non-voluntary exposure to chemicals in the environment but that one way to reduce non-voluntary exposure would be to stop the application of chemical pesticides for cosmetic purposes in the municipality.
The lecture acted as a catalyst to commence discussion on the cosmetic use of pesticides. Momentum grew quickly within the community to lobby the municipality to introduce a by-law to ban the use of chemical pesticides for cosmetic purposes in Chelsea, particularly after Dr. Bruinsma addressed council directly on the matter. In response, Chelsea's council created a sub-committee with the mandate to revise the by-law which had been drafted several years before. ACRE was founded shortly thereafter.
The Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the Hudson pesticide by-law.
4.0 DRAFTING THE BY-LAW
The sub-committee was composed of Chelsea residents and included one ex-officio member of council.
In the fall of 1998, a draft of the by-law was made available to the public and a public consultation meeting was held. This draft did not include the golf courses as properties which were subject to the prohibition.
By far the majority of the comments received from the public requested that the draft by-law be made stricter, specifically with respect to the golf courses.
The by-law was passed unanimously by council in December 1998.
The adoption of the by-law received a fair bit of publicity in the local, Canadian and international media.
5.0 KEY POINTS IN THE BY-LAW
defines as a "pesticide" all products included in classes 1,2,3,4 and 5 of the Pesticides Act of Quebec, but does not include any medicinal product (sub-class "M");
does not apply to farmers or to the interior of buildings;
does not prevent the use of mechanical or physical devices (ie sticky paper, ant traps, etc.);
prohibits the application of a pesticide throughout the municipality, subject to the following exceptions:
- dormant oil may be applied on fruit trees as a preventive measure;
- Class 5 pesticides which are identified by the Municipality from time to time may be applied;
- golf courses have a period of 5 years from the date of implementation of the by-law to cease their use of prohibited pesticides;
- Class 5 pesticides may be applied on plants or insects which constitute a danger to people (ie poison ivy, wasps, etc.) without a permit;
- in the case of an infestation of insects which has been verified by the municipality pesticides may be applied provided that a permit has been obtained; and
regulates the manner in which any pesticide must be applied when such application is permitted.
6.0 COMMUNITY ACTIVITY
Prior to the adoption of the by-law, ACRE organized an educational campaign on the health risks associated with the use of chemical pesticides, and on alternatives to these products. After the by-law was passed, ACRE has continued its educational programme in collaboration with the municipality. Information has been made available to residents through the municipal library (books, pamphlets and other printed material), by way of mail-outs, telephone information, workshops and information kiosks at local events and at the town hall. Information and assistance has also been provided with respect to organic gardening methods and suggestions for organic methods of controlling garden pests.
The members of ACRE are concerned about the release of chemical contaminants into the environment as pesticides and believe that PMRA is not adequately protecting the health of Canadians or the environment because:
- there is a lack of knowledge concerning the potential toxic effects of pesticide products on the immune, nervous and endocrine systems, reproduction and development,
- it is impossible to test the effect of the thousands of chemicals which are released into the environment every year in interaction with all of the other thousands of chemicals present in the environment;
- many chemical pesticides have not been adequately evaluated or re-evaluated for several years;
- testing criteria do not include the most vulnerable members of society (i.e. children);
- testing criteria do not consider endocrine disruption; and
- there is a lack of information on inert ingredients in pesticides.
The residents of Chelsea are clearly concerned about their health, the health of their children and the health of the environment and yet there is no effective legislative or regulatory scheme or educational programme at either the federal or provincial level which adequately addresses their concerns. ACRE and the municipality have had to fill a void created by a lack of action on the part of both of the federal and provincial governments and have had to do so without any funding. ACRE relies entirely upon volunteers.
In passing the pesticide by-law, the municipality of Chelsea acted in accordance with the precautionary principle. ACRE encouraged the municipality to do so because of its concern with the lack of scientific certainty concerning the health effects of the use of pesticide products. ACRE believes that the fact that the response of the community at large to the first draft of the by-law was to request that it be made stronger is a clear indication that many residents in Chelsea wish for their government to act in accordance with this principle.
The Hudson by-law has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. That by-law and the by-law passed in Chelsea were motivated by a desire to create the best possible environment for the residents of those municipalities. If the Hudson by-law should be struck down by the Supreme Court, the residents of municipalities across Canada will be looking to their provincial and federal governments to protect their health and that of the environment.
The federal government should provide the same level of leadership, vision and support that municipalities such as Chelsea and Hudson have demonstrated to protect human health and that of the environment through the regulation and reduction of chemical pesticide use. The federal government's role is crucial as contaminants do not respect municipal boundaries. The federal government's commitment to the health of Canadians can be made clear by the immediate ban of chemical pesticides for cosmetic purposes.
In demonstrating its vision and support, the federal government should act in accordance with the following definition of the precautionary principle:
"Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation". There should be no reference to cost-effectiveness in this principle.
The first criterion to be considered in the registration or re-evaluation of a pesticide should be the need for the product. If the product does not correct a legitimate problem, it should not be considered for evaluation for registration purposes.
When the currently available evidence indicates that use of a chemical pesticide may pose an "unacceptable risk of harm", that chemical pesticide should not be registered under the Pest Control Products Act, or, if it is so registered, it should be de-registered.
Persistent and bioaccumulative pesticides should be immediately de-registered.
The federal government should de-register any product as soon as a less toxic product or method becomes available (the "substitution rule").
Pesticides registered as Domestic under the Pest Control Product Act (PCPA) should be further divided into sub-categories in accordance with their known toxicity.
All registered pesticides should be re-evaluated as to whether they may be endocrine disruptors. Pesticides which are known to be, or which are suspected to be, endocrine disruptors should be de-registered.
The federal government should impose a tax on cosmetic pesticides and use the funds generated by such tax to clean up contaminated areas or to fund educational programmes aimed at encouraging organic methods of lawn care or farming.
Chemical pesticides should not be readily available to the general public over the counter.
All chemical pesticides should include a warning similar to those found on cigarettes such as WARNING: THIS PRODUCT MAY CAUSE SERIOUS HEALTH CONSEQUENCES TO HUMANS OR THE ENVIRONMENT or WARNING: THIS PRODUCT HAS NOT BEEN EVALUATED AS AN ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR AND ITS EFFECT ON THE ENVIRONMENT OR HUMAN HEALTH IS NOT KNOWN.
The label on the chemical pesticides should include a full description of the contents of the product (including inert ingredients) together with the percentage of such ingredients and the date of the most recent evaluation of the product. All registered products must be re-evaluated on a regular basis. The evaluation process must include both active and inert ingredients and must evaluate these ingredients both alone and as a formulation.
Protection of the natural environment should be given the same weight as the protection of human health.
The federal government should provide sufficient funding for an on-going education programme on the risks associated with the use of chemical pesticides and other common toxic household products.
The federal government should: encourage organic methods of farming and lawn care, allocate funds to inform and educate Canadians about alternatives to chemical pesticides, and fund research into alternatives to chemical pesticides. There should be an office within the federal government which manages these initiatives (similar to the Pest Management Alternatives Office which was disbanded).
The federal government should provide a subsidy and technical assistance to lawn care companies who wish to promote organic practices and to farmers who wish to adopt organic methods of farming.
All the information provided by pesticide manufacturers for registration purposes must be readily available to the public. The public must be able to participate in the registration process as well as in the regular re-evaluation process. An atmosphere of trust through full disclosure must be created and maintained.
The federal government must fund research into the association between chemical pesticides and human health with a specific emphasis on the health of children and other vulnerable members of society such as pregnant women and fetuses. Risk-assessment guidelines must be created which explicitly recognize the impact of chemical pesticides upon these groups. These guidelines must attempt to capture the cumulative exposure of individuals to multiple sources of contaminants over time from all sources including food, water and air. The particular vulnerability of children must be considered when setting limits for pesticide residue in food.