Documentary tells how Quebec town launched anti-pesticide movement

Paul Tukey produced and directed the documentary Hudson: A Chemical Reaction to tell the story of Hudson, Que. and its fight against lawn chemicals.

The town of Hudson, Que., glimpsed itself on screen Monday night, depicted as "ground zero" in the battle against the use of lawn herbicides and pesticides.

That's how Paul Tukey, a U.S. television host and author, saw the town that was the first to ban use of these products in its jurisdiction.

"I knew as a journalist that there had to be a good back story," Tukey told CBC News.

"That somebody had to go out on a limb and take on these chemical companies, because the chemical companies, trust me, go to unbelievable lengths to ensure they have the right to sell these chemicals."

Tukey produced the documentary Hudson: A Chemical Reaction to tell that back story, which included fighting chemical companies all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The documentary film had its premiere Monday night in a special screening for environmental group Go Green Hudson and the people of Hudson, Que.

"What a great story, and it's all really based around one woman, Dr. June Irwin. She's still a practising dermatologist well into her 70s on the West island of Montreal," he said.

"June Irwin fundamentally changed the North American landscape forever just by daring to speak out," said Tukey.

"She went to every single town meeting in Hudson from June of 1985 to until they passed the ban. Literally every single month she would show up and she would read a document full of facts and full of anecdotes that came in the news. She would read this aloud and say why aren't we getting rid of these things? Why are we allowing these products to be on our properties?"

Grassroots revolution

The town of Hudson's triumph at the Supreme Court in 2001 was only the start of the story, Tukey said. His documentary, shot last year in Hudson and across Canada, chronicles how Hudson's decision kickstarted an environmental movement toward organic lawn care.

"When June got it passed in Hudson, other folks across Canada started to say, look at what Hudson has done, and that's really depicted in our movie," Tukey said.

Quebec banned the chemicals throughout the province and individual municipalities across Canada followed Hudson's lead.

Tukey worked with director Brett Plymale to create the film, talking to the people of Hudson and researching the history at the local newspaper.

But the story of Hudson had been close to his heart for some time, because he had worked in the lawn care industry in his home state of Maine.

"I started in the late 1980s, and by the late 1990s I was coming home in the evening with blurred vision and nosebleeds and nausea, and I was really quite a physical mess," he said. A doctor attributed his health problems to his work with lawn chemicals.

Tukey said he then became interested in organic gardening, an interest he indulged by talking to experts across the U.S. for his TV series, People, Places & Plants.

In 2007, he wrote The Organic Lawn Care Manual, which had a single page of background about the story of Hudson.

His documentary Hudson: A Chemical Reaction, produced by PFZMedia, has been entered to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival this September.