A government bill to restrict cosmetic pesticide use to commercial applicators is a balanced approach to longstanding health and environmental concerns, says Environment Minister Terry Lake.
Yet that promise of amendments to the Integrated Pest Management Act, tabled in the legislature on Wednesday, doesn’t satisfy those who want a complete ban on cosmetic pesticide use in B.C.
Critics say the legislation represents a broken promise by Premier Christy Clark, who pledged during her Liberal leadership campaign to ban cosmetic use outright.
And — more to the point, perhaps — the bill doesn’t satisfy the NDP, which is sticking to a promise of a full cosmetic-use ban, including for commercial applicators, if elected to office.
Lake feels the legislation is consistent with the recommendations made last year by a special legislative committee on the matter and with the extensive public input a bipartisan committee received.
“This bill gives us the power to make regulations and the intent of the regulations is to put these chemicals in the hands of people who are well-trained and licenced,” he said.
When he was mayor of Kamloops, Lake championed restrictions on cosmetic use through a UBCM resolution.
Kamloops and Kelowna have successfully implemented integrated pest management policies, Lake noted. The approach is designed to reduce indiscriminate and unnecessary pesticide use by encouraging more broadly based strategies.
A key goal of the bill is to reduce broadcast spraying of pesticides to address common concerns about exposure through wind and drift. For example, residents complain of careless application by their neighbours in areas where non-commercial application is still permitted.
“Science tells us they’re harmful if used incorrectly,” Lake said.
A full ban would have been a simpler approach to enact, but difficult to regulate and enforce, he said.
Much the same dilemma confronts the City of Kamloops since it banned non-commercial application of cosmetic pesticides three years ago.
The municipal ban makes the province’s bill seem like a moot point locally, but the City’s initiative in 2010 was seen as more of a symbolic move than a practical one. The City can’t restrict retail sales of cosmetic pesticides and property owners may not even be aware that the restriction exists.
The proposed legislation goes further, Lake said. All commercial applicators would have to be trained and licenced — not just supervisory staff, he said.
Consultations with industry are expected to follow if the bill is passed into law, and the legislation would take effect in 2013-2014.
That, of course, hinges on whether the Liberals are re-elected.
“It’s not a perfect scenario, but I think it’s a balance,” said Jacquie Doherty of Grassroots Choice Lawn Care. “The problem being, we don’t know what’s going to happen with government.”
The flip side of that is uncertainty over the NDP’s plans.
“This has been going on for years,” said Doherty, a member of the Integrated Environmental Plant Management Association, an industry group. Commercial operators have been delaying purchase of new equipment, since a total ban would make such acquisitions redundant.
“Maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel for business people,” she said.
NDP nominee Tom Friedman said his party isn’t backing away from its promise.
“This is clearly a different bill and I think that commitment has been ignored,” he said.
“This is disappointing to me because there are all sorts of environmental and health reasons for that ban. The scientific and health evidence is clearly there; it’s a risk, particularly to children and the elderly. I personally don’t think it’s worth that risk.”
Coun. Donovan Cavers shares that view. When Cavers pressed last year for a full ban on cosmetic pesticides, Lake advised municipalities to hold off and see how the province addressed the issue.
“I guess that’s a step in the right direction, but I was hoping for more,” Cavers said of the bill. “There’s no way to regulate that (ban) in residential use.”
Lake indicated that regulations may allow property owners some leeway for limited application of pesticides, such as spot use of Roundup. Agriculture, local government and forestry applications wouldn’t be affected by the new rules. And communities will be able to opt out, he added.
“We think that’s going to reduce the unnecessary use of pesticides yet still leave that tool there when necessary,” Lake said.
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Retailer sees gradual shift in use
Since the City banned household use of cosmetic pesticides three years ago, sales of the products have declined and sales of non-toxic pest controls have risen, a local retailer says.
“Sales have gone down, so already the ban is having an effect,” said Maury Hik, owner of Art Knapp Plantland.
All of society is trying to move to more organic treatments, he believes.
Store employees direct customers to an integrated pest management approach — alternative strategies — and recommend only limited, short-term use of treatments such as Roundup.
Hik believes the province and the city, unlike in Ontario, are on the right track with policies that discourage use and promote greater awareness.
While some customers tell him they feel the new rules are a money grab, he has seen sales of alternatives steadily increase.
“We sell more of that than ever. Kamloops is on the ball, I have to say.”
Jack Juusola, owner of Canadian Tire outlets in Kamloops, said his stores continue to sell cosmetic pesticides, partly because they serve many out-of-town customers so far unaffected by the ban.
He doesn’t believe the restrictions on homeowners will have a significant effect, since licensed applicators represent the bulk — 95 per cent by one estimate — of pesticides applied.
“I think that has a far bigger impact than the individual consumer,” Juusola said.
In the meantime, weed infestations have increased.
“All you have to do is look around Kamloops and you see the weeds growing. It’s looking pretty shabby.”