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Pesticides

Bylaws are the way to go

By Mae Burrows and Dr. Warren Bell

Imagine a drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool. Imagine that small amount of exposure changing your baby's life in some way.

That's what emerging science is showing us about far-reaching changes that can occur when a pregnant woman or a baby is exposed to low doses of certain chemicals.

Many of these chemicals (called endocrine-disruptors because they can interfere with the normal functioning of hormones in the body) are found in common pesticides and herbicides that people spray and powder on their lawns and gardens.

We are learning that it's not the size of the dose but the timing that can cause harm later in life, such as premature puberty, infertility or sterility. Many of these chemicals on the market today are considered "safe."

"Safe" is a term used in testing related to fully grown males. These chemicals are not tested for safety when developing fetuses are exposed. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has urged that we make policies with regard to pesticides with prenatal exposures and the "unique vulnerabilities of children" in mind.

Many pesticides and herbicides contain both endocrine- disrupting and carcinogenic chemicals, and we have learned from our long battle to protect children from second-hand smoke exposure that we should protect those same children from exposures to carcinogens in other products.

Some cancers in children have risen over 60 per cent since the 1970s and have been linked with exposures to chemicals in some pesticides. Likewise, breast and testicular cancers are on the rise; a recent study of cancer trends in 20- to 44-year-olds shows a 54 per cent increase in testicular cancer, a disease associated with exposure to both carcinogens and endocrine-disputing chemicals. Check the CancerSmart Consumer guide to learn for yourself what chemicals are in pesticides.

A recent Harvard study warns that there may be a 'silent pandemic' of neurodevelopmental disorders that has resulted from exposing children to certain neurotoxins contained in domestic pesticides. Neurotoxins can lower intelligence and contribute to learning disabilities and are contained in many pesticides.

Let's face it: chemicals that damage an insect's brain will also affect humans.

There is no doubt in the world of science that we must act to protect children from these exposures.

In court cases opposing pesticide bylaws, all parties agree that the chemicals aren't safe but argue their "right" to use these on property.

Pesticides don't stay in one garden, they drift throughout neighbourhoods, and flush into our storm drains and salmon streams.

Letter carriers, dog walkers and children who deliver papers are all exposed.

They don't have the right to know that they are being exposed to someone's pesticides?

More than 120 communities in Canada have instituted pesticide bylaws, and Burnaby must do the same.

We have clear indication of harm, model by-laws from other places, and alternatives to use.

We also have evidence that education alone, an essential component of a pesticide bylaw, doesn't work.

The Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention studied behaviour change when there was only education (low reduction rates of 10 to 24 per cent) compared to communities with bylaws and education (high degree of change 51 to 90 per cent).

Bylaws get people's attention, and they aid education.

We learn about the toxic chemicals in pesticides and the alternatives.

By-laws are mainly complaint-driven; therefore, citizens have enforcement support to protect themselves and their children from exposure.

Just as you can get support to prevent smoking in a public place or you can report someone wastefully consuming water at times of dangerously low water tables (remember those green lawns during the watering bans?), with this bylaw, citizens could assert their right not to be poisoned by someone's use of these chemicals.

The Labour Environmental Alliance, Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment all support a ban on pesticides.

Burnaby council should too.

Bylaws supported by the evidence

Mae Burrows is with the Labour Environmental Alliance Society (LEAS) and Dr. Warren Bell is with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).



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