By Sarah Seeley
Sept. 24, 2014
Maureen Kerr noticed a disturbing trend in her Stratford community.
Children were getting cancer.
When she asked her neighbours why the kids were getting cancer, they said it was because of cosmetic pesticides. Those are any chemical substance used to prevent, repel, attract or reduce weeds or pest organisms.
Cancer isn’t the only harmful effect of pesticides. People are developing environmental allergies, said Stratford Coun. Diane Griffin.
“Some might be more sensitive to pesticides than other people, so that can be difficult. Once something’s in the air, it affects everyone around.”
She compared environmental allergies to perfume allergies. Her husband is allergic to scented perfumes and hairsprays.
“I can understand how someone would feel if they were sensitive to cosmetic products. It has increased my awareness on this issue.”
But Stratford doesn’t have the power to control pesticide use because it is a provincial responsibility.
When Kerr learned Stratford didn’t have a ban on cosmetic pesticides, she wanted to do something about it. She organized Pesticide-Free P.E.I., a group that raises awareness about the alleged dangers of pesticides and lobbies municipal and provincial governments to enact a pesticide ban.
“You think it’d take people asking for a ban, but people have been asking for 25 years, so I’m not sure what it would take for the province to make one to protect people from harmful chemicals.
“There are entire provinces that are banning them and yet we have to fight for a municipal ban.
“It seems like the towns and communities are looking to get the power to enact a cosmetic pesticide ban.
“And that would be interesting because it would be just a hodgepodge of different bans when really the province should enact their own ban.”
The agriculture industry is a road block in the provincial ban negotiations. The farmers are concerned about a ban on agricultural pesticides if the cosmetic pesticides are outlawed, said Kerr.
“Pesticides are used everywhere on P.E.I. to grow potatoes and they don’t want anything to affect that.”
Kerr’s group attends town council meetings and meets with provincial government representatives to voice their concerns.
She isn’t the only one worried about pesticides. Residents are becoming more aware of the issue, said Griffin.
“I know there are an awful lot of people concerned about cosmetic pesticides. They talk to me when they are out shopping and they leave lots of emails, letters and phone calls to city hall.”
The town conducted a survey earlier in the year with a section devoted to pesticide use.
About 812 people took the survey and 20 per cent of respondents used pesticides, while 73 per cent did not.
In Stratford, having a well-kept lawn is a top priority, said Griffin.
“I think there are a lot of people who take great pride in their lawns. They’re going for the perfect lawn, but there’s more than one way to get a perfect yard.”
In the survey, 63 per cent of respondents said they used non-chemical methods to control pests on their lawn such as vinegar, weed-pulling, soapy water and selective planting.
But not all residents are using non-chemical methods. Kerr noticed business and home owners spraying pesticides around schools, day cares and playgrounds. Her group met with provincial representatives and asked for buffer zone around those areas.
“They’re spraying harmful chemicals right next to where children play. It’s a loophole they found in the regulations.”
The provincial government did not respond to her idea.
Meanwhile, Pesticide-Free P.E.I. worked with Stratford council to start a public education program to inform residents. Together they created a leaflet listing the dangers of cosmetic pesticides and sent it to every household in Stratford.
“We were really pleased with what they came out with,” said Kerr.