By K. Jean Cottam

As a grandmother of two young children in Kanata, I am very concerned about my grandchildren’s potential exposure to toxic chemicals used for cosmetic purposes. U.S. independent scientists suggest that children may be one hundred times as vulnerable as adults are when exposed to pesticides. Our children are increasingly afflicted with cancer, birth defects, impaired physical development, autism and attention deficit. On the other hand, we are all subjected to all kinds of chemicals that are bound to interact. However, Health Canada does not take into account any cumulative or combined exposures.

A  pesticide bylaw for the City of Ottawa was shamefully defeated in October 2005, despite the strong recommendations for an appropriate bylaw from Dr. Robert Cushman, previous Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. David Salisbury, the current MOH. In this pre-election period the issue was kept in the background until the Canadian Cancer Society brought it again to the forefront of the election agenda. For this, the Canadian Cancer Society, hardly a radical organization, deserves a lot of credit.

Meanwhile, Ottawa is lagging behind 122 Canadian municipalities which already have a pesticide bylaw, including the entire Province of Quebec, and several other municipalities which are considering such bylaws. The Ottawa Citizen’s editorials have usually been unhelpful and uninformed on this issue. However, a number of well-informed letters to the editor have been compensating for the shortcomings of these editorials.

Some Councillors and candidates for Councillors, as well as one candidate for the Office of the Mayor, are shamefully uninformed on this issue. They claim that if they are elected or re-elected they will do whatever they are told to do by people in their Wards and the citizens of Ottawa as a whole, as applicable.

This is tantamount to a deplorable lack of leadership on their part and an excuse to listen especially to the uninformed and self-interested elements in their Wards. In the past, some of the candidates accepted substantial donations from industry in general and then fell obligated to satisfy the lobbyists for the lawn care industry in particular who keep insisting that there is insufficient basis for a pesticide ban in the City of Ottawa, despite medical evidence to the contrary.

The industry and sympathizers aim to obtain the unrealistic, in science, 100% proof before they will approve any action against pesticides. (Pesticides is a generic term including herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides and fungicides.)

Canadians are generally unaware that the chemical industry in North America pays millions to have their products tested on rats in special labs. However, rats have detoxification genes missing in humans. Some of these secret industry sponsored and approved studies are examined by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Industry (EPA) as a basis for product registration. The PMRA has rejected epidemiology (human studies)  and doesn’t have a single medical doctor on staff.

Unlike the testing of pharmaceuticals, only the “active” portion of the final chemical product is examined. The substantial “inert” formulants are not tested, even though some of them have been linked to cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer reporting to the World Health Organization. U.S. state attorneys general are demanding that the “inerts” be evaluated as well.

It is not generally known that the first breakdown product of the commonly used herbicide 2,4-D of Agent Orange fame, 2,4-dichlorophenol, happens to be more toxic than the original synthetic chemical and is not tested on rats. However, it is inadvertently tested on our grandchildren who walk in the proximity of a lawn sprayed with this herbicide.

The inhalation exposure is even more dangerous than ingesting a chemical, as residues go directly to the brain, by-passing liver which is a cleansing organ. Thus keeping children off a sprayed lawn is not enough. They should not be walking in the proximity of sprayed areas for at least a week, according to a ground-breaking scholarly article in Paediatrics & Child Health, published in April 2006.

Our new City Council should rise to the occasion and pass a strong urban pesticide bylaw.

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