CBC Investigates

Restricted pesticides easy to buy in Winnipeg despite ban, I-Team finds

Manitoba’s cosmetic pesticide ban was supposed to keep weed killers like Roundup out of the battle against pesky yet harmless weeds, but a CBC News investigation found store after store flouting the rules.

6 out of 9 stores investigated by CBC News violate Manitoba’s cosmetic pesticide ban

Manitoba's cosmetic pesticide ban was supposed to keep weed killers like Roundup out of the battle against pesky yet harmless weeds, but a CBC News investigation found store after store flouting the rules. 2:29

Manitoba's cosmetic pesticide ban was supposed to keep weed killers like Roundup out of the battle against pesky yet harmless weeds, but a CBC News investigation found store after store flouting the rules.

"It's a big deal," said Manitoba Eco-Network executive director, Curt Belton. "The fact that the retailers either aren't being educated or aren't actually complying is a little bit disturbing."

Secret shoppers hit the Polo Park, Garden City and Regent locations of major garden product retailers.

In total, six out of nine stores sold the product in contravention of the legislation.

Secret shoppers were able to buy Roundup for cosmetic purposes at 6 out of 9 stores. (CBC News Graphics)

Strict rules, which included securing the products in store, were put in place in 2015 to make sure pesticides banned for cosmetic uses were only sold for the purpose of killing poison ivy, maintaining sports fields or eradicating harmful invasive species on lawns, patios and driveways.

The Manitoba Eco-Network pushed for the ban for a number of environmental and health related reasons.

Manitoba's cosmetic pesticide ban generated controversy during the consultation phase in 2014.  

"It's definitely a health concern for children. It's a health concern for pregnant women," Belton said.  

In 2015 the World Health Organization listed glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup as a probable carcinogen.

However, its toxicity to humans is still a hotly debated matter. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency rates its toxicity level to humans as low. Health Canada undertook a review of glyphosate last year and deemed it was still safe for use in Canada but says the final re-evaluation decision has not yet been made.

Still, Belton is upset the law isn't being enforced.

"To me the message is 'Oh, gee! It's still available. We can just use that'."

Manitoba Eco-Network executive director, Curt Belton questions why the province has not been doing a better job educating retailers and enforcing the cosmetic pesticide ban. 1:45
The province put retailers in charge of enforcing the rules by requiring them to put products in secure locations and ask customers what they plan to do with the chemicals.

Only three out of nine clerks refused to sell CBC's secret shoppers Roundup when we told them it was to kill dandelions in the driveway — but the the rest handed over the weed killer.  

Belton said he believes the province needs to do a better job educating retailers and the public about the ban.  

"The legislation is clearly there but who is really educating the stores and who is educating the store staff as to how exactly this is supposed to look?" Belton said. "It seems like it is the responsibility of the provincial government and I know that they did have some inspectors that were supposed to be enforcing this as well, but as with many other things that need to be enforced is do they have enough staff as well?"

Wolseley mother Abby Flackman supported the cosmetic pesticide ban because "it didn't make sense that people would be allowed to use chemicals in their yards without any sort of formal training."

She is disappointed by the results of the I-Team secret shopper test.  

"So obviously no one is taking this ban very seriously, which is a shame because to me it's a very serious issue and this is a great opportunity to get on top of it."

Wolseley mother Abby Flackman says the I-team investigation shows that people aren't taking the ban seriously. (CBC)

Flackman's husband and three daughters used alternative and chemical-free methods to weed out pests and unwanted plants in their garden. While they believe the province and the retailers share some responsibility in enforcing the law, they also also believe consumers need to do more to observe the ban.

"Obviously public education is the best thing because we can't rely on our higher powers all the time," she said. "I don't know how we can get people to stop other than the individual citizens to taking the responsibility upon themselves."

The Manitoba Nursery Landscape Association is not surprised by the findings of the I-Team investigation and said it warned the former NDP government the legislation was flawed. 

"Really what they have done is the 16-year-old part time kid working...is the one enforcing this legislation. This is bad public policy," said David Hinton, president of Weed Man and executive director of the Manitoba Nursery Landscape Association.

He says it is frustrating to tell customers his company is not allowed to use banned cosmetic pesticides when they can still buy them at garden stores.
The I-team has found that banned pesticides are easily available in Winnipeg. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

"It is not right. It is not a level playing field. It is hurting Manitoba businesses," said Hinton. "If the province really thinks the products are dangerous, which I don't think they do, then they should take it off the shelf."

The province said at the end of the 2015 season most stores were in compliance with the legislation. It plans to provide additional education for retailers in the coming weeks after being presented with the findings of the CBC News investigation.

"[W]ith the hiring of new seasonal staff at many stores and garden centres the province recognizes the need for ongoing education about the legislation," the province said in a written statement.

The CBC I-Team contacted the retailers visited by the secret shoppers and all three chains pledged to take swift action to ensure compliance.

Home Depot Canada said it has a strict policy around the storage and distribution of Roundup. In an email the company said it took immediate action including a review of its process and annual retraining program and additional training for seasonal associates. It confirmed as of May 26, all six Manitoba Home Depot stores started their retraining process.

Walmart Canada said it is committed to full compliance with government regulations and is looking into the I-Team's results to make sure the legislation was followed.

Canadian Tire said it recently communicated the change in pesticide legislation to its Manitoba staff and will issue a follow-up communication to remind them of the protocol.