(Beyond Pesticides, June 25, 2007) In a new report published by the David Suzuki Foundation, environmental lawyer David Boyd finds that over 6,000 Canadians are acutely poisoned by pesticides each year, and more than 46 percent of those cases are children under the age of six. Entitled Northern Exposure: Acute pesticide poisonings in Canada, the report analyzes records of poisonings that occurred immediately after exposure, rather than chronic symptoms, such as cancer and neurological diseases. Based on its results, the Suzuki Foundation has made recommendations for personal and municipal actions to reduce poisonings.
While much of Canada has been active in reducing pesticide exposures through bans on the cosmetic use of lawn pesticides, including one spanning all of Quebec, the report’s announcement laments the country’s failure to accurately document poisonings. According to the Suzuki Foundation’s release, “This is only the tip of the iceberg: many poisonings are misdiagnosed or completely unreported. Currently, the federal government does not systematically monitor exposure to pesticides.” According to the report, the “incomplete and inconsistent Canadian system” of reporting that shows an estimated 2,832 child poisonings lags far behind “the more comprehensive American system [that] records more than 52,000 such cases” of exposure incidents.
Ironically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did have a Pesticide Incident Monitoring System for over a decade until 1981 when it was closed down within the first year of the Reagan Administration. Since that time, pesticide incident monitoring has been subpar. In a 2000 report, Pesticides: Improvements Needed to Ensure the Safety of Farmworkers and Their Children, the U.S. Government Accountability Office clearly spells out the deficiencies in the federal data collection system and concludes, “Officials from these agencies that collect data on pesticide illnesses confirmed that a lack of comprehensive national data exists”¦” The report then explains the deficiencies associated with the range of databases, including the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which EPA uses to indicate the extent of acute pesticide incidents and illnesses.
Better data, of course, is necessary when providing evidence in support of pesticide bylaws that reduce children’s exposure to common pesticides and improves decision-making in the regulatory process. “Protecting children’s health is one of our most vital responsibilities,” said Mr. Boyd. “The startling number of Canadian children poisoned by pesticides provides compelling evidence that stronger actions are required to prevent these incidents from happening.” The report’s seven key recommendations to Canadian municipalities are:
1. Require all pesticide products to be sold in child-resistant containers to minimize risk of accidental exposure.
2. Increase funding to poison control centers with revenue to be raised, in part, through a special surcharge on all pesticides.
3. Implement a national poisoning prevention program with the following central elements:
*Designation of all poisonings, including pesticide poisonings, as reportable events
*Implementation of the Prod Tox program that was shelved in 2002
*Creation of a national poisonings database
4. Ban the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes (e.g. lawns and playgrounds).
5. Terminate the registration of all pesticide products where the active ingredient has been banned in another OECD country because of health of environmental concerns.
6. Establish a national health tracking system that includes pesticide poisonings.
7. Recognize Canadians’ right to live in a healthy environment.
While the U.S. may lead Canada in terms of incident reporting, state preemption laws prevent most municipalities from passing cosmetic pesticide bans like Quebec’s. Beyond Pesticides believes that municipalities should be able to protect children from unnecessary and harmful pesticides. For tips on how to organize in your community to start reducing pesticide exposure routes, click here.