Please don’t spray in the places where we play

As someone who is familiar with the application and health issues associated with pesticides; having worked for many years on a large agribusiness farm, I was very disappointed to see that the City of Red Deer has decided to use pesticides (specifically 2,4-D) “at some of Red Deer’s recreation sites, school sites and playgrounds,” in response to complaints from a few residents “who consider dandelions an eyesore.

As someone who is familiar with the application and health issues associated with pesticides; having worked for many years on a large agribusiness farm, I was very disappointed to see that the City of Red Deer has decided to use pesticides (specifically 2,4-D) “at some of Red Deer’s recreation sites, school sites and playgrounds,” in response to complaints from a few residents “who consider dandelions an eyesore.”

It is important to note that in 2010, the Alberta Weed Control Act and Regulations “removed dandelions from the Weed Act and Regulation.”

When one considers that the City of Red Deer has been a leader in the area of pesticide reduction and has “reduced its application in public lands by 75 per cent over the past 25 years,” it is disappointing that our city is taking a devastating step backwards.

A rapidly growing number of countries (including Norway, Denmark, and Sweden), Canadian provinces (e.g. Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and soon Manitoba) and municipalities (172 in Canada with an additional eight pending) have banned these potentially harmful pesticides and practices in the interests of public health.

According to the government of Ontario, a world leader in the area of pesticide reduction and legislation, “The government believes the use of pesticides to control weeds and insects for purely cosmetic reasons presents an unnecessary risk to our families and pets, especially when we can have healthier lawns and gardens without chemicals. We have listened to medical experts — like the Canadian Cancer Society — who have made a convincing case for reducing our exposure to pesticides, particularly children who are generally more susceptible to the potential toxic effects of pesticides.”

In Alberta, a 2008 Check Mate poll shows an average of 87 per cent (or nearly nine out of 10 Albertans) support a ban on the use of non-essential pesticides when considering children’s health, the health effects of pets, and the risks to the environment/air quality/ water quality.

In a notice of motion dated June 27, 2012, re: dandelions, which was carried at the Aug. 20, 2012, City of Red Deer council meeting, it states: “It should be noted that the increased use of chemicals is not supported in our Environmental Master Plan” and “past best practices have led to the discontinuance of dandelion treatment in the following areas: … because of concerns related to youth and animal exposure to chemical (in) sports fields, picnic areas, school sites, playgrounds and any neighbourhood green space where a resident has requested no spraying.”

It should also be noted, the report was accompanied by only five letters from the public, three of which asked that no pesticides be sprayed in our city’s green spaces.

So why with such increasingly global, national, provincial and municipal support to ban such potentially harmful pesticides like 2,4-D for cosmetic purposes, has the City of Red Deer decided to spray?

Why is the City of Red Deer spraying a chemical that shows evidence of birth defects and mutation of cells in lab animals (Environment Canada Fact Sheet, Pesticides :2,4- D, MCPA, Dichlorprop, Mecoprop)?

Why has the City of Red Deer decided to use a possible human carcinogen and a suspected endocrine disruptor with a half-life between 20 and 200 days (and up to a year in your home if your children or pets track in some of that lingering pesticide dust (Boyd, 2006)(Nishioka, M.G. et al. 1999)?

Why has the City of Red Deer decided to use a pesticide that has a “very high mobility in soils” (Cheah, U-B, R.C. Kirkwood, and K-Y. Lum. 1997) and contaminates not only ground water and local river systems, but also potentially the sand beneath the playground equipment after the city washes the pesticide residue off after spraying?

Why is the City of Red Deer applying pesticide in the places that we play?

Our leaders must protect their citizens. An increasing number of countries, Canadian municipalities and provinces are demonstrating every day that there are equally successful non-toxic methods and programs to control weeds and educate people about the benefits of biologically diverse green spaces. Programs and methods that use a natural approach to weed management through eco-friendly techniques coupled with public education avoid the harmful effects to the environment and human health of using pesticide.

We must not allow the vocal minority and esthetic opinion of a few people to affect the overall health of our soil, air, water, plants, animals, citizens and, most importantly, our children and grandchildren; especially when effective and healthy alternatives from places of similar geography and climate have been successfully demonstrated. For these reasons I ask that the mayor and Red Deer city council immediately reverse their decision to apply pesticides to green spaces, recreation sites, school sites and playgrounds.

Pierre Oberg

Red Deer

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