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B.C. examines possibility of cosmetic pesticide ban

B.C.'s Special Committee on Cosmetic Pesticides, charged with investigating and making recommendations for a possible province-wide ban of non-essential pesticides, met for the first time today.

The committee was appointed on June 2, 2011 after the New Democratic Party introduced a bill to ban the pesticides, for the third time, in May.

Vancouver-Fairview MLA Margaret MacDiarmid was elected committee chair at today's meeting, according to draft transcripts.

"There’s a lot of different ways we could approach the work," said MacDiarmid in an interview with The Tyee yesterday.

 "We've got really clear terms of reference, of what we're supposed to do, but they're fairly general. For example the terms of reference say we'll conduct consultations with the public and key stakeholders but it doesn’t say how we'll do that," she said.

According to the draft transcript, MacDiarmid suggested the committee be briefed by the Ministry of the Environment on work that has already completed concerning cosmetic pesticides, including results of earlier public consultations. The possibility of hearing from other ministries, including health and agriculture, was also brought up.

The committee will also be able examine stricter cosmetic pesticide regulations that already exist in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

According to Dr. Carolyn Gotay, a professor at the University of British Columbia and a Canadian Cancer Society chair in cancer primary prevention, "there's certainly suggestive evidence that these pesticides can increase cancer rates and given that there are alternatives to keeping lawns green and beautiful it seems to me it makes a lot of sense to choose those alternatives and not be exposing ourselves to carcinogens that we don’t know the long term impacts of."

In an open letter, on April 15, 2010, to the B.C. government Gotay wrote, "the exact extent of cancer attributable to cosmetic pesticide exposure is unlikely ever to be definitively specified," one of the reasons she gave was that "a randomized, controlled trial, in which individuals are randomly assigned to be exposed to pesticides or not, with a record of cancer rates in each group, would be the optimal scientific design to answer this question. For ethical reasons, such a study will never be conducted."

"Certainly, regulations that ensure the safe use of pesticides by people that know what they’re doing seem to make sense...if we're talking about chemicals, do we want people that may not be knowledgeable to use them? And if they are eligible for use by consumers then they’re probably in small enough amounts that they won’t be dangerous to things other than the plants for which they are intended, if their used properly," said Leslie Tannen, the executive director of the B.C. Landscape and Nursery Association.

But, she thinks using the word ban simplifies the issue too much.

"I think the word ban makes it black and white, but I think really what we're talking about is stronger regulations about the use of pesticides that are not essential," she said.

Concerns about what pesticides or uses are considered "cosmetic" and "unnecessary" were also raised at today's meeting.

"Whether we use the word 'cosmetic' or whether we use the word 'unnecessary,' there is some degree of subjectivity to it. There certainly are definitions of all of these terms. As a committee, we can try to come to an agreement about what it is that we mean, but there is some challenge there. Unfortunately, it's not a black and white issue," said MacDiarmid during today’s meeting.

There is no deadline yet for when the committee will make its recommendations to the legislature. "I think everybody is going to want to make sure that we get the information that we need to have, but that we don’t take an inordinately long time to put our recommendations forward to the legislature," said MacDiarmid.

Ainslie Cruickshank is completing a practicum at The Tyee

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