After two months of impassioned debate, hundreds of emails and countless phone calls, it fell to Coun. Arjun Singh’s deciding vote on Tuesday to ban residential cosmetic use of pesticides in Kamloops.
“The thing that really concerns me is the impact on vulnerable populations,” Singh said, bringing the thorny issue to a close after two hours of presentations and discussion.
“I know I’m going to lose some votes on this,” he added.
With that, council voted 5-3 in favour — councillors Pat Wallace, Ken Christian and Marg Spina opposed the motion — of prohibiting the commercial application of pesticides on lawns and ornamental shrubs. The ban supplants a 2009 bylaw that banned all but professional application and includes the city in a group of about 30 other B.C. municipalities that have already imposed residential cosmetic bans.
Debate hinged on a persuasive argument by opponents of the ban. They maintained that a commercial cosmetic ban would lead homeowners to flout the law by purchasing and applying pesticides on their own without the training and safeguards used by professionals. As a result, a ban would only worsen public health risk, they said.
With proponents and opponents anxiously awaiting the meeting’s outcome, council heard arguments from speakers brought in by both sides.
Dr. Warren Bell, a Salmon Arm family physician and founder of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, questioned reliability of science that suggests pesticides are not harmful if used safely.
“It’s not about the pesticides themselves,” Bell said. “It’s about the conflict of interest behind the research that can shape the data.” The bias is a natural one and cannot be ignored, he said.
“It’s not a reflection on your integrity, it’s just that’s what happens to us as humans.”
Bell pointed to disturbing results of research on pesticide health impacts in Mexico and Sri Lanka. He noted that the herbicide active ingredient 2,4-D has been declared a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization. The WHO has also raised glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, from a possible to a probable carcinogen.
But focusing only on cancer overlooks other health implications linked to pesticide use. Most significantly, these include effects on the human fetus if a mother is exposed.
“The evidence over time has increasingly suggested that what we thought was simple, easy and safe hasn’t been,” Bell said.
Ken Sapsford, a retired Saskatchewan agrologist, argued that pesticide research done by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency is sound science. Research is rigorous and designed to prevent bias, he said.
“Those guys, I know where they’re coming from and I know what their ethics are, and the information is there,” Sapsford said.
While the International Agency for Research on Cancer has flagged glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, the same applies to caffeine, pickles and aloe vera, he said. International studies are not directly applicable because of unknowns surrounding safe product use.
“It seems to me that there are a lot of provinces that are not trusting,” said Coun. Tina Lange, who initiated the controversial motion in June.
Elaine Sedgman and Fearon Blair of the Thompson Shuswap Master Gardeners Association presented the case for alternatives to pesticide use. Sedgman described the “pesticide treadmill” on which beneficial insects — those that naturally control pests — are wiped out.
“The pest re-invades, rebounds with a vengeance because you’ve killed them all,” Sedgman said. As well, chemical resistance builds over time among pests.
“There are so many alternatives,” Blair said. “The other thing about, it’s changing your tolerance level.” People learn to accept through experience and education that an imperfect lawn or garden actually reflects a more natural, sustainable balance.
“I truly believe that if the bylaw passes, people will abide by it and, as Dr. Bell has said, there needs to be an educational component,” Sedgman said.
Coun. Dieter Dudy, an organic farmer, wondered aloud whether the bylaw would be effective, whether it would not cause more harm than good since pesticides are available for store purchase. Mayor Peter Milobar expressed similar misgivings.
Sedgman countered that senior government is watching.
“If enough municipalities pass a bylaw, the provincial government has to sit up and take notice. I think we have to be leaders on this,” she said
Millbrae also stated that the six-year ban on homeowner application has not produced a single bylaw infraction: “We haven’t been able to enforce this, but we have seen more commercial applicators used.”
The impact on business troubled Coun. Pat Wallace: “I feel very strongly that our existing bylaw is strong enough to protect people,” she said. “I’m not prepared to support this bylaw any more than I want to run companies out of town or add people to the unemployment list.”
Once the motion passed, Singh moved that the City follow suit by addressing its own cosmetic use of pesticides.
“I think it is important for us as City Hall to mirror what we’ve asked the public to do,” he said.
Milobar said he found that disingenuous considering its abruptness after two months of debate. Council voted to table the separate motion.
Then the mayor noted that the original motion did not include a date for enacting a ban. An amendment took care of that, with the ban to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Councillors Wallace, Marg Spina and Ken Christian opposed the amendment.