Precaution on cosmetic pesticides calls for ban

Winnipeg Free Press – PRINT EDITION

By: Debbie Pollock

Posted: 1:00 AM | Comments: 0g

Eco-friendly products can substitute for cosmetic pesticides.


DARREN STONE / TIMES COLONIST Archives Eco-friendly products can substitute for cosmetic pesticides.

As a medical doctor, I feel a responsibility not only to improve the health of my individual patients but to help protect the health of our community by protecting the larger environment. As the mother of an eight-year-old boy, I feel that it is important to protect my son from unnecessary exposure to toxic lawn and garden pesticides in the environment.

Six provinces — Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador — and 160 municipalities have already implemented a cosmetic pesticide ban. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment has led an extremely successful anti-pesticide campaign across Canada in recent years.

Now, Manitobans, have the opportunity to support a ban on cosmetic lawn and garden pesticides in our province. The Manitoba government has released a discussion paper regarding a potential ban on non-essential pesticides entitled Play it Safe: A Consultation on Cosmetic Lawn Pesticides. The deadline for public consultation is Oct. 1.

Why should we ban cosmetic pesticide use in Manitoba?

Pesticides are toxic chemicals that harm human health and the environment. Pesticides are among the most widely used chemicals in the world and also among the most dangerous to human health. Pesticides for lawn and garden care are a broad range of chemicals that include: herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. They are a leading cause of poisonings here in Canada and have been estimated to account for thousands of deaths each year globally.

The pesticide literature review released by the Ontario College of Family Physicians in 2012, showed “consistent associations between reproductive, respiratory and neurological problems in humans and pesticide exposure.” Also, the current body of knowledge suggests a connection between pesticides and cancer.

Cosmetic pesticide use is a public health issue, particularly for children. It is well established that children are at a greater risk from pesticide exposure than adults. Children represent a vulnerable and sensitive group because their bodies and physiological systems are still undergoing substantial growth and development. In addition, children are often more exposed to environmental health risks because of their particular behaviours and activity at each developmental stage.

Since non-essential cosmetic pesticides have the potential to cause harm and have no health benefits, it is prudent to take a precautionary approach. The precautionary principle states that when an activity poses a threat to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even when the cause and effect relationship is not fully established scientifically.

It is unnecessary to use potentially harmful chemicals to maintain beautiful properties. There are safe, natural alternatives and many non-toxic products on the market. Organic lawn care products and practices such as aeration, over seeding and mowing high can help produce healthy green lawns without the use of pesticides.

In 1948, the World Health Organization defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” Since then, we have come to a better understanding of the place of humans within the global ecosystem. Today, health is a state of complete physical, mental, social and ecological well-being. Ultimately, our health depends upon the health of the ecosystem of which we are a part.

In a world of multiple chemical exposures, we must remove needless risks from cosmetic pesticides. We must protect our health and that of our children and future generations by protecting the health of our planet.

Manitobans deserve the protection from pesticides already enjoyed by millions of other Canadians. I would strongly encourage the public to send a letter to Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh and Health Minister Theresa Oswald asking for a pesticide ban in Manitoba.


Winnipegger Debbie Pollock is member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, whose mandate is to protect human health by protecting the planet.



Silent Spring: 50 years later

Winnipeg Free Press

In 1962, a toxic cloud of controversy surrounded Rachel Carson’s landmark book. Has anything really changed since then?

By: William Souder

Posted: 09/8/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0g

Rachel Carson with wildlife artist Bob Hines in the Florida Keys around 1955. Her book turns 50 this September, and the arguments over it continue to rage.


Rachel Carson with wildlife artist Bob Hines in the Florida Keys around 1955. Her book turns 50 this September, and the arguments over it continue to rage.

GRANT, Minn. — Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s landmark warning about the indiscriminate use of pesticides, turns 50 this month. By extension, that puts the environmental movement also at the half-century mark — along with the bitter, divisive argument we continue to have over both the book and the movement it spawned.

The terms of that argument, which emerged in the brutal reaction to Silent Spring from those who saw it not as a warning but as a threat, haven’t changed much. And they leave us with a vexing question: Why do we fight? How is it that the environment we all share is the subject of partisan debate? After all, the right and the left inhabit the same planet, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

Carson’s book was controversial before it even was a book. In June 1962, three long excerpts were published by the New Yorker. They alarmed the public, which deluged the Department of Agriculture and other agencies with demands for action and outraged the chemical industry and its allies in government. In late August 1962, after he was asked about pesticides at a press conference, then-president John F. Kennedy ordered his science adviser to form a commission to investigate the problems brought to light, the president said, by “Miss Carson’s book.” A month later, when Silent Spring was published, the outlines of the fight over pesticides had hardened. Armed with a substantial war chest, pesticide-makers launched an attack aimed at discrediting Silent Spring and destroying its author.

The offensive included a widely distributed parody of Carson’s famous opening chapter about a town where no birds sang and countless fact sheets extolling the benefits of pesticides to human health and food production. Silent Spring was described as one-sided and unbalanced to any media that would listen. Some did. Time magazine called the book “hysterical” and “patently unsound.”

Carson’s critics pushed her to the left end of the political spectrum, to a remote corner of the freaky fringe that at the time included organic farmers, food faddists and anti-fluoridationists. One pesticide-maker, which threatened to sue if Silent Spring was published, was more explicit: Carson, the company claimed, was in league with “sinister parties” whose goal was to undermine American agriculture and free enterprise to further the interests of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. The word Communist — in 1962 the most potent of insults — wasn’t used, but it was understood. Silent Spring, said its more ardent detractors, was un-American.

And there the two sides sit 50 years later. On one side of the environmental debate are the perceived soft-hearted scientists and those who would preserve the natural order; on the other are the hard pragmatists of industry and their friends in high places, the massed might of the establishment. Substitute climate change for pesticides, and the argument plays out the same now as it did a half-century ago. President Kennedy’s scientific commission would ultimately affirm Carson’s claims about pesticides, but then as now, nobody ever really gives an inch.

Carson was also accused of having written a book that, though it claimed to be concerned with human health, would instead contribute directly to death and disease on a massive scale by stopping the use of the insecticide DDT in the fight against malaria. One irate letter to the New Yorker complained Carson’s “mischief” would make it impossible to raise the funds needed to continue the effort to eradicate malaria, and its author wondered if the magazine’s legendary standards for accuracy and fairness had fallen.

The claim that Rachel Carson is responsible for the devastations of malaria, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, has gained renewed traction in recent years. The American Enterprise Institute and other free-market conservatives have defended the safety and efficacy of DDT — and the claim of Carson’s “guilt” in the deaths of millions of Africans is routinely parroted by people who are clueless about the content of Silent Spring or the sources of the attacks now made against it. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a limited-government, free-enterprise think-tank, maintains the website, which details Carson’s complicity in the continuing plague of malaria. In 2004, the late writer Michael Crichton offered a bite-sized and easy-to-remember indictment of Carson’s crime: “Banning DDT,” Crichton wrote, “killed more people than Hitler.” This was dialogue in a novel, but in interviews Crichton made it clear this was what he believed.

Carson, who stoically weathered misinformation campaigns against her before her death from breast cancer in 1964, would find the current situation all too predictable. As she said once in a speech after the release of Silent Spring, many people who have not read the book nonetheless “disapprove of it heartily.”

Rachel Carson never called for the banning of pesticides. She made this clear in every public pronouncement, repeated it in an hour-long television documentary about Silent Spring, and even testified to that effect before the U.S. Senate. Carson never denied there were beneficial uses of pesticides, notably in combating human diseases transmitted by insects, where she said they had not only been proven effective but were morally “necessary.”

“It is not my contention,” Carson wrote in Silent Spring, “that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge.”

Many agreed. Editorializing shortly after the New Yorker articles appeared, the New York Times wrote that Carson had struck the right balance: “Miss Carson does not argue that chemical pesticides must never be used,” the Times said, “but she warns of the dangers of misuse and overuse by a public that has become mesmerized by the notion that chemists are the possessors of divine wisdom and that nothing but benefits can emerge from their test tubes.”

Carson did not seek to end the use of pesticides — only their heedless overuse at a time when it was all but impossible to escape exposure to them. Aerial insecticide-spraying campaigns over forests, cities and suburbs; the routine application of insecticides to crops by farmers at concentrations far above what was considered “safe;” and the residential use of insecticides in everything from shelf paper to aerosol “bombs” had contaminated the landscape in exactly the same manner as the fallout from the then-pervasive testing of nuclear weapons — a connection Carson made explicit in Silent Spring.

“In this now-universal contamination of the environment,” Carson wrote, “chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world — the very nature of its life.”

The Competitive Enterprise Institute — to its credit — acknowledges Carson did not call for the banning of pesticides in Silent Spring. But they claim Carson’s caveat about their value in fighting disease was so overwhelmed by her general disapproval of their use that “negative publicity” around Silent Springhalted the use of DDT against malaria, notably in sub-Saharan Africa, where some 90 per cent of the world’s malaria cases occur.

It’s true that Carson found little good to say about DDT, but it’s a stretch to see how the mood surrounding Silent Spring was the prime cause of DDT’s exit from the fight against malaria. And, as the New York Times and other publications proved, it was understood by anyone who took time to read Silent Spring that Carson was not an absolutist seeking to stop all pesticide use.

DDT had been effective against malaria in Europe, in Northern Africa, in parts of India and southern Asia, and even in the southern United States, where the disease was already being routed by other means. But these were mostly developed areas. Using DDT in places such as sub-Saharan Africa, with its remote and hard-to-reach villages, had long been considered problematic. It was an old story and one still repeated: Africa was everybody’s lowest priority.

And in any case, the World Health Organization had begun to question its malaria-eradication program even before Silent Spring was published. One object lesson was that the heavy use of DDT in many parts of the world was producing new strains of mosquitoes resistant to the insecticide. Much as it can happen with antibiotics, the use of an environmental poison clears susceptible organisms from the ecosystem and allows those with immunity to take over.

When the recently created Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT for most domestic uses in 1972, this ruling had no force in other parts of the world and the insecticide remained part of the international anti-malaria arsenal. The United States continued to manufacture and export DDT until the mid-1980s, and it has always been available from pesticide-makers in other countries.

One result is that DDT is still with us — globally adrift in the atmosphere from spraying operations in various parts of the world, and also from its continuing volatilization from soils in which it has lain dormant for decades. The threat of DDT to wildlife — as a deadly neurotoxin in many species and a destroyer of reproductive capabilities in others — has never been in doubt. Carson’s claims in Silent Spring about DDT’s connection to human cancer and other disorders have not been completely resolved. The National Toxicology Program lists DDT as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” The same holds for two of its common breakdown products, DDD and DDE, which are also suspected of causing developmental problems in humans.

These are cloudy but worrisome presumptions. DDT is stored in fat tissues — including ours — and that storage amplifies with repeated exposures over time, as well as through food chains, with unpredictable consequences. We walk around with our personal body burden of DDT, a poison we still consume both from its decades-old residuals and its ongoing uses. If Rachel Carson hoped to end the use of DDT and our exposure to it, she did a lousy job.

In 2006, the World Health Organization announced a renewed commitment to fighting malaria with DDT, mainly in Africa — where the WHO had never lifted its approval for this purpose. Environmental groups backed the move, as Rachel Carson surely would have had she been with us still.


— Slate

Manitoba College of Family Physicians signs on!

Great news! Manitoba College of Family Physicians has signed on to our call for a strong ban on cosmetic pesticides.  It is very important that the medical community show their support publicly since the opposition claims these chemicals are safe to use since Health Canada regulates them.  Please see our page, “why ban cosmetic pesticides” for more information.

A Great Letter to the Minister

Honourable Gord Mackintosh

September 26, 2012
Room 330, Legislative Building

450 Broadway
Winnipeg, MB R3C 0V8

Dear Minister Mackintosh:

I am writing to you as someone who had to move away from Winnipeg due to pesticide spraying.  I ask you to support a cosmetic pesticide ban for Manitoba.
I have lived with a medical condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, or Environmental Illness for over twenty years.  I raised my family in Manitoba, mostly in Winnipeg, and had to move away in 2006 in order to preserve my health.  As you might imagine, I miss my family deeply.   I can only visit during the
months that no pesticides will be used (mid-October to end March).

The degree to which my health has improved since leaving Manitoba has astounded me.  While I remain
‘sensitive’, I am much less so, and my overall heath is more reliable.
People in Thunder Bay and Toronto are surprised to learn of the spraying that occurs in Winnipeg.  Meanwhile, there is such a strong culture of pesticide use in Manitoba, that people in Winnipeg suppose that spraying must be happen in Ontario.  Yet there has been a province-wide ban on cosmetic pesticide use here since 2007.  I believe it is up to the elected representatives to respond to the now prolific scientific evidence against the use of cosmestic pesticides, and to show leadership in promoting a fresh and healthy attitude towards outdoor air quality.

I would like to return to Manitoba, but will be able to do so only after a cosmetic pesticide ban is in place, the public educated, and the ban enforced.  For me, this would include organophosphates (e.g. Dursban, Malathion) as well as glyphosphates (e.g. Roundup).

As someone whose body is like a ‘canary in the coalmine’, I can vouch for the positive impacts on human health of an effective cosmetic pesticide ban.   I urge you to work towards such a ban in Manitoba.

Thank you for your attention.


Yours truly,

Robin Faye
c.c. Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba

Press Conference, Sept 24 : Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba

Media Advisory: Manitobans Show Support for Ban on Cosmetic Pesticides 
September 23, 2012 (For immediate release)

Winnipeg, MB –  A coalition of health and environmental groups is set to deliver a letter calling on the Manitoba government to ban the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides.  Over 1000 people have shown support for the ban either by signing letters or by adding their names to an online petition.  Representatives with the coalition Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba plan to deliver the letters and signatures to Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gordon Mackintosh following a press conference in front of the Manitoba Legislature Monday morning.

Press conference details:

Where: Manitoba Legislature, 450 Broadway, Lower Steps (by the statue of Queen Victoria)
When: Monday, September 24, 10:00 am
Who: Anne Lindsey, Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba

Dr. Paul Doucet M.D., emergency physician, and father of five
Vicki Burns, outreach coordinator, Lake Winnipeg Foundation

Contact: Amanda Kinden, Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba, (cell phone on site):

The press conference features experts in health, water, and the environment. Research by the Ontario College of Family Physicians has identified scores of studies showing that human health is at risk from pesticide use. Other recent scientific evidence shows aquatic ecosystems are especially endangered.

“Cosmetic pesticide use is a public health issue, particularly for children,” said Dr. Debbie Pollock, M.D. “It is well established that children are at a greater risk from pesticide exposure than adults. Pesticides also can have long-term health effects, resulting both from acute poisonings and from chronic exposure”

“We cannot justify the use of cosmetic pesticides to control dandelions and other weeds when the potential threats to human health, animal health and our environment, including Lake Winnipeg, are so great,” said Vicki Burns, outreach coordinator with the Lake Winnipeg Foundation. “At a time when the health of Lake Winnipeg is so threatened, why allow a practice that is so unnecessary and has the potential to be so damaging.”

“Reducing toxic load is important for the health and learning abilities of all, especially children.” said Marilyn McKinnon, executive director with Learning Disability Association of Manitoba. “It is a critical consideration for children with learning disabilities.”

Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba launched its campaign last summer in response to a consultation being conducted by Manitoba Conservation into the use of cosmetic pesticides in Manitoba.  Six other provinces, representing over two thirds of Canada’s population, already have regulations limiting the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. The group’s petition can be viewed online at:

“We applaud the government for initiating this critical public health and environmental discussion,” said Anne Lindsey, spokesperson from Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba. “Concern about the negative impacts of unnecessary chemicals is growing amongst the general public, health care providers and many other sectors. We call on the government to heed these concerns and implement strong legislation banning cosmetic pesticides in Manitoba”


Contact: Amanda Kinden, Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba, (cell phone on site): (204) 990-6280

Related background materials:

1) Contact information for other experts willing to speak with media and other supporting organizations:
2) Letter to Conservation Minister, Gordon Mackintosh: 
3) Background information on cosmetic pesticides:
4) Link to the 2012 Ontario College of Family Physicians report:
5) Petition:

University of Winnipeg Becoming Pesticide-Free Zone

WINNIPEG, MB – The University of Winnipeg is going pesticide-free by spring 2013, the first campus in Manitoba to make that commitment towards a healthier and more sustainable landscaping practices.

“Research taking place at UWinnipeg increasingly suggests that pesticides used on lawns and gardens pose needless risk to people, pets and the environment – including Lake Winnipeg. Dr. Bill Buhay (Geography) is involved in research about the impact of substances such as cosmetic pesticides on Lake Winnipeg. It is telling that based on this research, Dr. Buhay endorses the banning of cosmetic pesticides in Manitoba,” said Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, President and Vice-Chancellor. ”Dr. Eva Pip, a long-time member of our department of Biology and an expert on pesticides and water quality, has also expressed her support for such a ban. The scientific research taking place at UWinnipeg confirms that pesticides cause harm to sensitive ecosystems and contamination from pesticide residues puts our waterways at risk.”

The elimination of cosmetic pesticides is consistent with UWinnipeg’s Campus Sustainability Policy and Healthy Campus Initiative which is currently in development. It also builds on other important action-oriented practices adopted at UWinnipeg to protect the health of our lakes, and improve the quality of life for students and the surrounding community. Recent initiatives include:

Eco-friendly initiatives on UWinnipeg campus

  • Introduced phosphate-free detergents and environmentally friendly cleaning products for use on campus

  • Became the first University in Canada to ban the sale of water, eliminating tens of thousands of plastic bottles, an initiative led by students that spread to quickly across the country

  • Introduced double-sided printing as default on all copiers and printers on campus

  • Installed a hybrid heating system that will enable the University to replace higher-emitting natural gas with lower-emitting hydro electricity during off-peak times

  • Partnered with the Forks Renewal Corporation (fall 2011) to send all campus food scraps, containers and cutlery to the Forks to be turned into compost for landscaping, allowing for a neighbourhood-level solution to waste management

  • Undergoing a major water retrofit project so all bathrooms on campus will have low-flow toilets and sinks

  • Opened the UWSA Bike Lab to promote active and sustainable transit options for students, staff and the surrounding community. The Bike Lab offers free year-round programming including bike maintenance and safety workshops

  • Following an in-depth LEED certification process by the Canada Green Building Council, both McFeetors Hall: Great-West Life Student Residence and The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association Daycare Centre joined an elite group of eco-friendly buildings in Manitoba by achieving Silver LEED status (November 2011)

– 30 -.


Diane Poulin, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg

P: 204.988.7135, E:

Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Manitoba is in The Uniter!

Member Anne Lindsey argues the point for a cosmetic pesticide ban in Time to ban lawn chemicals
in the current issue of The Uniter.

Manitoba Lung Association and Organic Food Council of Manitoba Sign on!

Manitoba Lung Association, Organic Food Council of Manitoba, Sustainable South Osborne Co-op and Transition Winnipeg are the most recent organizations to sign-on to our letter to the Provincial Government.  Don’t forget to also contact your MLA and let them know you support a strong ban on the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides!

Watch for further updates on which organizations support a ban!

We’ll be at St. Norbert Farmer’s Market Sept.22

Have questions about cosmetic pesticides or organic lawn care?  Also want to purchase some local veggies?  Stop by our table and sign our petition on Sept. 22 from 8-3.

Contact Your MLA!

We have heard that MLAs have been receiving comments against the cosmetic pesticide ban.  Therefore it is very important that those in support of a cosmetic pesticide ban let their respective MLAs know.  

Please call or write your MLA directly at, it is important that MLAs hear from their constituents directly about this issue.  
Who is your MLA?  Find out here.

Please view our adaptable form letter that can be used to contact your MLA: Letter to MLA.F