Calgary committee votes to phase out pesticide use

More than 100 people packed into a city committee meeting Wednesday — some waiting up to eight hours — to debate restrictions on the use of pesticides in Calgary.
Laureen Rama wore a gas mask to the public meeting where she supported a ban on pesticides. ((Rick Donkers/CBC))

More than 100 people packed into a city committee meeting Wednesday — some waiting up to eight hours — to debate restrictions on the use of pesticides in Calgary.

The standing policy committee on utilities and environment had asked for public input on whether or not the city should phase out the cosmetic use of pesticides on public land by 2009 and private property by 2010.

Laureen Rama, an organic landscaper, showed up at the meeting wearing a gas mask to drive home her support for a pesticide ban.

"I've asked my neighbours not to use pesticides and most don't. But if anyone does in the neighbourhood, I start feeling it," she said, explaining she suffers from several chemical sensitivities.

Dr. Meg Sears, a health researcher from Ottawa's Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said pesticides are toxic to humans and can lead to long-term health problems.

Municipalities have the power to restrict the use of pesticides, but not their sale. ((CBC))

"Restricting pesticide use right where children live and right where children play is the lowest hanging fruit. You can make the biggest impact on toxic exposures to children by reducing their exposure to pesticides," she said.

Dave Day, the city's director of environmental safety and management, recommended that tough restrictions be introduced on pesticides and harsh lawn chemicals.

"If you're applying pesticides uniformly across a lawn that has 17 dandelions, you've just put pesticide in 97 per cent of the places you don't need it. And these products are very sinister in that regard, and they need to be removed from the market," Day said.

"That remains from my perspective … the number one action to take."

More than 140 municipalities in Canada have bylaws restricting the use of pesticides, but they do not have the power to enact laws on the sale of the chemicals.

Quebec is the only province that prohibits the sale of certain pesticides.

Pesticides are stringently tested to ensure they're safe for the environment and users, said Stan Audette, who works for Dow AgroSciences Canada, speaking on behalf of Croplife Canada, which represents manufacturers and distributors of pest control products.

"When they are used according to the label, they are completely safe," he said.

After hearing eight hours of submissions, the committee voted Wednesday to move ahead with the phase-out. The motion will be debated at city council in July.

Businesses worry about impact of restrictions

Golf courses and landscaping professionals have asked to be exempt from any restrictions, saying they would put them out of business.

Landscapers predict it will take more time, more staff and therefore more cost to remove weeds by hand in a pesticide-free environment.

"Certain condos would pay for it, certain places wouldn't," said Kari Anderson from Hire-A-Husband Landscaping. "The city can't afford to pay people to pluck a dandelion out of the ground."

A city committee on environmental policy wants to phase out pesticide use by 2010. (CBC)

Meanwhile, golf courses say the cost of maintenance and labour would get passed on to their customers.

"Some of the smaller courses have described it as … financially devastating," said Mitch Jacques of the Alberta Golf Industry Association. "I think you're going to see some of the smaller courses not being able to supply the product people expect so they're going to lose some of their regular green-fee customers."

But many homeowners and gardeners are choosing more environmentally conscious paths, so some stores aren't worried about a potential drop in pesticide sales.

"As soon as I get them in, they're gone," Home Depot staffer Rodney Hodgins said of the store's weed-picking tools. "So we know that it's not going to affect business very much."

Barbara Letkeman, who lives in the southeast community of Pennbrooke, said she uses natural fertilizers to choke out weeks, and also pulls some by hand.

"Our yard is just filled with birds, trees, and you can't use pesticides. It's going to kill the earthworms," she said. "You can't do that."