Manitoba·CBC Investigates

4 years after ban, restricted pesticides still easy to buy in Winnipeg

Manitoba banned the use of synthetic pesticides like Roundup on nuisance lawn and patio weeds years ago, but the majority of stores visited as part of a recent CBC News investigation were selling it in apparent contravention of the legislation.

Majority of home improvement stores in I-Team investigation sold the product with no questions asked

Manitoba prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides on pesky but harmless lawn weeds such as dandelions. (CBC)

Manitoba banned the use of synthetic pesticides like Roundup for nuisance lawn and patio weeds four years ago, but the majority of stores visited as part of a recent CBC I-Team investigation sold the product without following the rules.

A CBC producer went to big-box home improvement stores and found seven out of 10 sold glyphosate-containing Roundup without inquiring about its intended use.

"It's disappointing to find after all this period of time that we still have a rather weak level of compliance with the legislation," said Randall McQuaker, pesticides director with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

"It's a pretty good law. However, the intent of the law — which is to protect human health — won't really be achieved unless there is active compliance with the regulations at the retail level."

The I-Team conducted a similar test in 2016 and found six of nine retailers sold the product without asking appropriate questions.

CBC's I-Team visited 10 Manitoba retailers to see if they would sell restricted pesticides. Seven of the stores did. (CBC)

The province put retailers in charge of enforcing the rules, which came into effect under the NDP government in 2015, by requiring them to store products in secure locations and asking customers what they plan to do with the chemicals. 

The questions are key because there are some exemptions to the ban, which was intended to reduce exposure of people and pets to synthetic pesticides used for non-essential lawn care or cosmetic purposes. 

Gardeners are still allowed to use the restricted chemicals to kill noxious weeds such as poison ivy. 

"The sales associate should ask for the intent of the purchase and only sell this type of product for an exempted use," reads an information sheet aimed at retailers. 

No compliance inspections since 2016

When the legislation first came into effect, the province conducted 324 compliance inspections. That number dropped to 29 in 2016, and those results prompted a change in the way the province enforced the law. 

"A 96 per cent compliancy rate was achieved with the 2016 audit, so there was no longer any need to do inspections," wrote a spokesperson from the Sustainable Development department. 

"No further audits have been conducted of retail outlets as the department moved to a complaint response approach."

So far, the province has received two complaints this year. 

When presented with the I-Team's findings, a Sustainable Development spokesperson said there is no plan to move away from a complaint-based system. 

"We will treat these findings as complaints and may investigate or follow up with the stores to ensure there is ongoing training for new/seasonal staff," wrote the spokesperson. 

In 2016, the then newly elected Progressive Conservative government called for a review to determine whether or not any amendments were necessary to the legislation to achieve a balance between safe and esthetic greenspaces, and protecting human health. 

The provincial review, which heard from retailers, lawn care companies and concerned citizens, is still underway. 

Winnipeg resident Kyle Penny questions the effectiveness of the law after hearing the results of the secret shopper test.

Kyle Penny watches his daughter, Kaileigh, play outside their Wolseley home. (CBC)

"It seems like it's just a gimmick … sort of law that was put through for maybe public opinion without having any teeth to it," said Penny, who now lives in the city's Wolseley neighbourhood.

His rural upbringing has made him leery of pesticides in general. 

"Historically speaking, every time they've promoted a chemical that was used to treat insects or for herbicides, it's always 20, 30, 40 years down the road it turned out it was a bad idea to have your children playing in it," said Penny, who keeps his weeds in check by pulling them by hand. 

"Minimizing exposure to pesticides and herbicides would be optimal, because you don't know what sort of impact it will have on a growing body."

Stores respond

Lowe's, Rona and Home Depot said they are retraining all Manitoba employees to ensure they follow provincial rules. Canadian Tire said it reached out to the one location that sold the product to CBC to make sure proper selling practices are being followed. 

All stores said they are committed to following regulations.

On Wednesday, Germany announced it will ban all uses of glyphosate starting in 2023. This comes after similar bans in Austria and 20 municipalities in France.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" back in 2015.

Bayer, the manufacturer of Roundup, rejects that finding and maintains that research confirms these products are safe when used as directed. 

"Bayer has an unwavering commitment to sound science, transparency and to producing valuable tools that will help farmers continue to feed a growing population in a sustainable manner," said Komie Hossini,a spokesperson for Bayer. 

Earlier this year, Health Canada reconfirmed its 2017 assessment that found the product is safe when used as directed. 

Restricted pesticides still easy to buy in Winnipeg

2 years ago
Manitoba banned the use of synthetic pesticides like Roundup for nuisance lawn and patio weeds four years ago, but the majority of stores visited as part of a recent CBC I-Team investigation sold the product without following the rules. 2:42

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