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Toronto Bans Private Pesticide Use, U.S. Industry Plans Response
(Beyond Pesticides, May 30, 2003)
A bylaw phasing out cosmetic pesticides on private property, which recently passed in Toronto, Canada, has led to a U.S. lawn industry reorganization in order to keep such progressive laws from entering the States. Toronto's bylaw, which the Board of Health approved by a vote of 26-16 on May 22 2003, does not allow private use of cosmetic pesticides except when used for the control of human health hazards and infestations. Exceptions are to be determined by a committee comprised of environmentalists, lawn-care industry representatives and city employees.

Toronto is following the lead of several other Canadian towns that banned or severely restricted private pesticide use, including Halifax, Dundas, Chelsea and Hudson. However, Toronto's success did not come easily. The pesticide bylaw first faced the opposition of Medical Officer of Health Sheela Basrur, when she recommended adopting industry self-regulation instead. Chairman and vice-chairman of the Health Board, Joe Mihevc and Jane Pitfield, held out for tougher rules to regulate industry. They faced a wall when the lawn industry entered the scene. Under the guise of an organization they named the Toronto Environmental Coalition (TEC), 12 chemical lawn-care companies and their supporters initiated a public relations scheme. Radio and television stations began airing TEC ads that made ludicrous claims, including a charge that the proposed pesticide bylaw criminalizes gardening. TEC also fed off of the already overly heightened public fear of West Nile virus by stating the bylaw would increase the risk of the virus spreading. In actuality, Toronto's West Nile Virus plan includes the application of larvacide to the city's 175,000 catch basins, and engages in a public awareness campaign of the risk associated with stagnant water on private property.

Toronto's Board of Health and Mayor were furious about TEC's outrageous claims, stating the ads were "false" and "misleading." Mihevc stated, "These chemical ads are poisonous. They are scientifically inaccurate and morally unethical… To subject a city, still reeling from SARS, to fear mongering about West Nile Virus is unconscionable. The TEC is preying on the public insecurity about West Nile virus to benefit themselves." He added, "It is now clear who has the public interests in mind and who has vested interests … Obviously, we cannot trust the Toronto Environmental Coalition and their lobbyist Jeff Lyons to look out for anybody but themselves." Upon hearing the officials' responses to TEC's ads, 680 News immediately pulled the ads off the air.

U.S. lawn industry is fearful these regulations may be coming their way. Lawn & Landscape magazine recently reported the newly formed partnership of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA). PLCAA represents residential and commercial lawn care professionals in the U.S. and Canada. ALCA represents approximately 2,500 professional exterior and interior landscape maintenance, installation, and design/build contracting firms and suppliers nationwide. PLCAA now has the duty to administer regulatory affairs for both groups. PLCAA's vice president of legislative affairs, Tom Delaney, will coordinate the two association's legislative programs in an effort to curb potential pesticide restrictions in the U.S. "State and local activity is undermining customer's appreciation for the very benefits of our members' lawn and landscape services," says
Delaney, "We have learned from the recent activity in Canada that we must put more resources into being proactive to control the issues that can hurt our members' businesses."

While PLCAA and ALCA fight to keep chemicals on private yards, the potential for more and more people to be exposed to the toxic chemicals on their lawn heightens. Many people assume that since pesticides are so common, they must not be harmful. However, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration of a pesticide does not guarantee its safety. In fact, according to a U.S. General Accounting Office report, "EPA believes that no pesticide can be considered 'safe.'" For many chemicals, there is a serious lack of toxicity data. Furthermore, most pesticide products contain so-called "inert" ingredients that have not been adequately tested to address the public's health concerns. Despite these alarming factors, toxic pesticides continue to be used every day. These poisons trigger a number of symptoms including nausea, dizziness, headaches, aching joints, disorientation and inability to concentrate. A study published in November 2001 found that the commonly used herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba are easily tracked indoors, contaminating the air and surfaces inside residences and exposing children at levels ten times higher than preapplication levels. (Nishioka, M., et al., "Distribution of 2,4-D in Air and on Surfaces inside Residences after Lawn Applications: Comparing Exposure Estimates from Various Media for Young Children," Environmental Health Perspectives 109(11) (2001).)

Healthy lawns can be achieved with non-toxic methods. Soil aeration, correct mowing, organic fertilizers, vinegar and corn gluten are just some of the available alternatives to toxic chemicals. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides' Least-toxic Control of Lawn Pests fact sheet, and the Pesticides and You article Lawn Mowers to Leaf Piles: Fall is Prime Time for Lawn Care.