Widely used in New Brunswick forests, the herbicide glyphosate has been classified as a cancer-causing chemical in California.

On July 7, glyphosate will be placed on the California state government's list of carcinogenic chemicals.

This follows a decision by courts in the state to deny an appeal of the glyphosate classification by the company Monsanto, which produces several products that include the chemical, including the popular weed killer Roundup.

All products containing glyphosate must now be sold with warning labels that identify ingredients that are potentially cancer-causing. Companies selling those products will have one year from July 7, 2017, to add those labels to their products. 

Welcome decision

Glyphosate is commonly found in household garden herbicides, but is also widely used to control weeds on farmers' fields and to kill undergrowth on tree plantations.

Earlier this year, Health Canada announced the potential risks to human health and the environment from pesticides containing glyphosate are acceptable, if used as directed in updated labels.

California joins several other jurisdictions, including the Netherlands and several South American Countries, that have classified glyphosate as a carcinogen.

The decision was welcomed by New Brunswick groups who want the material banned in the province.

"Hopefully it puts more pressure on provincial and municipal governments to look at pesticides and to consider warning labels," said Tracy Glynn, forestry director with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. "And then phase it out completely." 

Tracy Glynn

Tracy Glynn, forestry director for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says the province needs to follow the lead of other jurisdictions and start phasing out the use of glyphosate. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

While California's decision does not affect the use of the chemical compound in this province, the New Brunswick Department of Health is aware of the recent classification.

For now, glyphosate continues to be approved for use en mass for a variety of projects, including NB Power's use of the material on its power transmission lines, and J.D. Irving's use of glyphosate to control forest growth. 

Dr. Jennifer Russell

Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief acting medical officer of health in New Brunswick, says glyphosate remains approved for use but the province will watch for any decisions on the product made by Health Canada. (Pat Richard/CBC)

New Brunswick's acting chief medical officer of health said the province will continue to monitor for any decisions on the product made by Health Canada.

"In New Brunswick, it is approved for use," said Dr. Jennifer Russell. "We're just monitoring that situation and we keep abreast of whatever the new information is that is coming out."

Health Canada re-evaluation

Glyphosate was first listed as "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, in 2015.

Health Canada is now undergoing a re-evaluation of the use of glyphosate in Canada, but it's not yet known when those results will be published. 

That's not enough for Glynn, who said the province has the power to make its own call on the use of the herbicide. 

"We know that a Supreme Court decision affirmed … that municipalities and provincial governments can limit and ban pesticides," she said, adding that other provinces, such as Quebec, banned the use of glyphosate in forestry "in light of public health concerns."

"And now we're spraying a record amount, the most of any province, at a time when New Brunswickers have never been more opposed to it," said Glynn.

"So we think it's time and New Brunswick needs to enter the 21st century in terms of forestry practices."