(Beyond Pesticides, May 5, 2011) Over 70 international organizations, including health and environmental groups, landscapers and farmers are proclaiming tomorrow, Friday, May 6, 2011, Lawn Pesticide Awareness Day in honor of Dr. June Irwin’s leading role in passage of North America’s first lawn pesticide ban in Hudson, Quebec, on May 6, 1991.
“The town of Hudson, Quebec, and particularly the actions of June Irwin, M.D., have sent a clear signal to communities all across North America that the use of lawn and landscape pesticides is both harmful and unnecessary,” said Jay Feldman, the founder of Beyond Pesticides of Washington, D.C. “Chemical lawn pesticides are scientifically linked to cancer in people and pets, and are known to be toxic to the nervous and immune system, endocrine disruptors, and tied to respiratory effects such as asthma. Alternative practices that rely on maintenance techniques and soil health that prevent unwanted insect and weeds are far more effective than their chemical counterparts.”
Now, for 80 percent of Canadians and a growing number of Americans, synthetic chemical lawn pesticides are becoming a habit of the past. In 1991, exactly six years from the first day she voiced her concerns at a town meeting, May 6, 1985, Hudson made North American history by banning synthetic lawn and garden pesticides on public and private property except farms and golf courses. Dr. Irwin, who maintains a dermatology practice in Pointe Claire, Quebec, said she began to notice rashes and other health issues related to lawn pesticides in the early 1980s. Her early warnings were ignored by the medical community and Canadian federal government, so she took matters into her own hands by attending every town meeting in Hudson, a village just to the west of Montreal.
“Lawn pesticides are an example of people willfully, though maybe not knowingly, poisoning their neighbors,” said Dr. Irwin. “These are terribly toxic substances and yet, it seemed to me, there was a conspiracy of silence. I’m pleased that, to some degree, we have been able to break through that silence to get the word out.”
The lawn pesticide industry, estimated at billions of dollars in revenue, quickly fired back at Hudson and its 5,200 citizens with a local court challenge in 1993. Yet as the lawsuit progressed through the Canadian legal system, all the way to the Supreme Court in December of 2000, public awareness and momentum was building against the use of the products that have been linked to a wide array of health and environmental maladies. In June of 2001, Canada’s top court shocked the lawn chemical industry with a 9-0 decision in favor of the town’s ban. Other lawn pesticide prohibitions soon followed in municipalities and provinces across Canada.
“We decided that applying pesticides for the sake of aesthetic purposes violated the precautionary principle,” said Supreme Court Justice Claire L’Heureux Dube, who wrote the uncontested opinion. “There was enough evidence to suggest that lawn pesticides could be dangerous, even though there wasn’t proof that lawn pesticides were dangerous in every situation. For the sake of killing dandelions it’s not worth taking a chance.”
At first, during the early 1990s, only a few other Canadian towns followed Hudson’s lead. By the time of the Supreme Court decision in 2001, about 30 municipalities had enacted bylaws similar to Hudson’s, which restricted applications of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. Quebec became the first entire province to ban the products such as weed ’n feed and Roundup in 2003.
Heightened awareness and activity on this issue, led by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and many other environmental and health groups, has brought lawn pesticide bans to more than 80 percent of Canada. Retail giant Home Depot voluntarily pulled synthetic lawn and garden pesticides off store shelves in 2008.
The adoption of pesticide-free and pesticide reduction policies have been gaining momentum across the country. Other examples include: New York State Parks; Chicago City Parks; 29 communities and townships in New Jersey; at least 17 cities in the Northwest, covering more than 50 parks; and, numerous communities throughout Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as new policies and programs are continually being implemented by local and state government entities as well as schools and homeowner associations.
Eliminating toxic pesticides is important in lawn and landscape management, considering that of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides: 14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, and 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants. The most popular and widely used lawn chemical 2,4-D, which kills broad leaf weeds like dandelions, is an endocrine disruptor with predicted human health risks ranging from changes in estrogen and testosterone levels, thyroid problems, prostate cancer and reproductive abnormalities. 2,4-D has also been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other lawn chemicals like glyphosate (RoundUp) have also been linked to serious adverse chronic effects in humans. Imidacloprid, another pesticide growing in popularity, has been implicated in bee toxicity and the recent Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) phenomena.
TAKE ACTION: Community activism is the best way to get your town to adopt such a policy. For assistance in proposing a policy to your city council (or its equivalent), contact Beyond Pesticides at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-543-5450. For more information on being a part of the growing organic lawn care movement, see Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscapes program page. Let your neighbors know your lawn and garden are organic by displaying a Pesticide Free Zone sign.
SIGNATORIES (as of April 28)
Advocate Precautionary Principle, Sarasota, Fla.
Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Anchorage, Alaska
Alberni Environmental Coalition
BC Pathways, Victoria, BC
Bernards Township NJ Environmental Commission, Bernards Township, N.J.
Beyond Pesticides, Washington, D.C.
Canadian Cancer Society, Vancouver, Ca.
Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Toronto, Ont.
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Citizens for a Green Camden, Camden, Maine
Citizens for a Green Scarborough, Scarborough, Maine
Citizens of a Green Yarmouth, Yarmouth, Maine
The Coalition of Organic Land Care Professionals, Seattle
Comox Valley Friends of Farming
Connecticut NOFA, Hartford, Ct.
Coquitlam Pesticide Awareness Coalition, Coquitlam, BC
EcoJustice, Toronto, Ca.
The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Paonia, Co.
Environmental Health Fund, Jamaica Plain, Boston
First Nations Environmental Network
Friends of Casco Bay, Portland, Maine
Farmworker Association of Florida, Apopka, Fla.
Galveston Baykeeper, Seabrook, Texas
Green Communities Canada, Peterborough, Ont.
Groundswell Stratford, Stratford, Ontario
Healthy Lawn Team, Madison, Wisconsin
Institute of the Environment, Ottawa, Ont.
Inspire Health, Vancouver
Lawn Reform Coalition, Washington, D.C.
Leah Collective, Concord, N.H.
Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Unity, Maine
Manitoba Eco-Network, Winnipeg
Natural Resources Defense Council, New York
NOFA Organic Land Care Program, Stevenson, Ct.
North Columbia Environmental Society, Revelstoke, BC
Ontario College of Family Physicians, Toronto
Organic Horticulture Business Alliance, Houston
People’s Action for Threatened Habitats, Vancouver
Pesticide Action Network North America, San Francisco
Pesticide Free Kimberley, Kimberley, BC
Pesticide Free Capitol Region District, Victoria, BC
Pesticide Free Cranbrook, Cranbrook, BC
Pesticide Free Columbia Valley, Sparwood, BC
Pesticide Free Columbia Basin, Cranbrook, BC
Pesticide Free Edmonton Coalition, Edmonton
Pesticide Action Nanaimo, Nanaimo, BC
Pesticide Free Zone, Kentfield, California
Pesticide Watch, Sacramento, California
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington, DC
Prince Edward Island Environmental Health Cooperative
Protect All Children’s Environment, Marion, N.C.
Rainfrog Amphibian Sanctuary, Roberts Creek, BC
Rachel Carson Council, Washington, D.C.
Richmond Pesticide Awareness Coalition, Richmond, BC
Safer Pest Control Project, Chicago, Ill.
The Sierra Club, Washington,D.C.
Sierra Club of Canada
Sierra Club BC, Victoria, BC
Sierra Club Chinook, Calgary
Sierra Club Connecticut, Hartford, Ct.
The SafeLawns Foundation, Newport, R.I.
Toxic Free Canada, Vancouver
Saskatchewan Environmental Society, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Stop Targeting Overuse of Pesticides, Victoria, BC
Toxics Action Center, Boston
Toxics Information Project, Providence, RI
Valley Green Pesticide Awareness, Comox Valley, BC
West Coast Environmental Law, Vancouver, BC
Wildsight, Kimberley, BC
Source: Safe Lawns Press Release