Nova Scotia

Residents seek clearer information from province on herbicide spraying

While the province says herbicide approvals for the forestry industry are posted online in the interest of public transparency, some residents say there isn't enough available information.

'The information they supply just seems to be scattered,' says retired professor

A helicopter sprays chemicals in this file photo. Last week the department signed off on six requests from three companies, J.D. Irving, Andrew MacMullin Forestry and Century Forestry, to spray herbicides covering more than 1,300 hectares across Nova Scotia forests. (CBC)

While the province says herbicide approvals for the forestry industry are posted online in the interest of public transparency, some residents say there isn't enough available information.

In legal approval documents posted on the Department of Environment website, information about the herbicides companies are permitted to use has decreased in the past two years.

The reason for herbicide use, the size of individual application areas and whether it will be applied on the ground or through the air is no longer in the public documents. They were in 2016.

Last week, the department signed off on six requests from three companies — J.D. Irving Ltd., Andrew MacMullin Forestry and Century Forestry — to spray herbicides covering more than 1,300 hectares across Nova Scotia.

In an Aug. 3 press release, the department said more information could be found in the approval documents.

Some spray sites include land adjacent to the Raven Head Wilderness protected area near Joggins, N.S., on the shore of the Bay of Fundy, as well as areas with trails and nearby waterways.

No info for herbicides in four applications 

Of the six approvals, only two list which herbicide, VisionMax, will be used. It includes glyphosate, the world's most widely used herbicide.

In the six approvals for 2017, no herbicides were listed.

In 2016, herbicides were listed on all 12 approvals, including the registration numbers associated with Health Canada's pesticide product information database, a safety registry created to allow public access to information.

VisionMax was the product that was most commonly used in the Nova Scotia forestry industry in 2016, according to documents. The herbicide keeps hardwood trees from growing in softwood stands.

While glyphosate is approved for use by Health Canada, a jury ordered $289 million US in damages on Friday to a California man who alleged Monsanto's glyphosate-based products caused his cancer in a landmark ruling that may have international implications.

Monsanto denies that glyphosate causes cancer, but the court saw documents "proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer," a lawyer for the plaintiff argued.

DeWayne Johnson's case, filed in 2016, was fast-tracked for trial due to the severity of his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system that he alleges was caused by Roundup and Ranger Pro, a Monsanto glyphosate herbicide. (Josh Edelson/Pool Photo via AP)

Glyphosate was found to be "probably carcinogenic to humans" by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015.

In 2016, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said as long as the chemical is used as outlined in the permit, it won't impact people's health.

Despite a lack of overwhelming evidence on the effects of glyphosate to human health, retired Dalhousie University biology professor David Patriquin said there is mounting evidence on the effects to microbial health. He said that should be enough to encourage the province to avoid broadly spraying forests until the full picture is known.

Patriquin said the province should be releasing more information about herbicide use.

"The information they supply just seems to be scattered," he said "There's definitely a lack of information about it.

"People have concerns about it. I don't see, with electronic communication and everything, why they can't be just much more transparent about posting what's done."

Patriquin saw a notice for Northern Pulp's upcoming aerial and ground herbicide application that was printed in the Aug. 1 edition of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, which was reposted in a Facebook group.

There were no details about where they would be distributing herbicides, beyond naming three counties — Halifax, Colchester and Hants. Northern Pulp's notice said signs have been posted to access points to the areas they plan to treat.​Patriquin said he went looking for more information on the Department of Environment's website, but didn't find an approval.

Northern Pulp — the paper mill which has recently drawn criticism over a plan to pump treated effluent directly in the Northumberland Strait via a subsea pipe — has two applications pending, said Environment Department spokesperson Rachel Boomer on Friday. If approved, information will be posted online.

In the meantime, the province requires companies to advertise their intention to spray herbicides, she said.

Some forestry companies in Nova Scotia spray a Monsanto product called VisionMax. The active ingredient is glyphosate. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Dates for spraying also aren't listed online, but date ranges are posted at site entry points and in company notices, allowing extra time for the right wind conditions.

The province also requires written notice to be given to nearby homes. Aerial sprayers must maintain buffers zones around waterways, wetlands and farms and the province requires signs be posted warning people not to eat fruit or berries found on the site for the remainder of the growing season.

Stacey Rudderham, a resident of Fall River, said information contained in the approvals related to spraying locations is confusing.

"They just say a bunch of different numbered areas that are in different municipalities.

"I think they could be a lot more specific about where," said Rudderham. "I think they really need to determine why they're using it.

"There's so many other options without spraying poison on our land and water, our wildlife."

Boomer said the property identification numbers can be searched on the real estate website Viewpoint.

People can reach out for more info, department says

In response to a question about the decreased transparency, Boomer said residents can reach out to the department or the company for more information.

"We provide [the documents] online in the interest of transparency. We issued a news release, and informed municipalities and Mi'kmaq bands of the approvals as well, also in the interest of transparency," said Boomer in an emailed response.

"We also require companies to advertise, and they provide a contact name and number for members of the public to call if they wish. We are happy to answer questions from the public if they would like further information."

Concerns ignored

Rudderham said she raised concerns about glyphosate with Environment Minister Margaret Miller two years ago. She said she received no response.

"The biggest part of this that bothers most of us who are paying attention to the situation, is that we've had a lot of public outcry about the continued use of this product and the government just ignores us," said Rudderham. "Our government isn't even really willing to consider how people feel about the use of this."

There are no plans to review the use of glyphosate in the province, which falls under the jurisdiction of Health Canada, said Boomer.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill and Millbrook chief Bob Gloade have previously called for consultation on the use of glyphosate.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia 

About the Author

Mairin Prentiss is a reporter in Nova Scotia. Get in touch at mairin.prentiss@cbc.ca