Players take on sprayers

Colin MacLean
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Herbicide program inspires activists

The pictures pretty much say it all.  They call themselves The Tordon Players, and they don’t appreciate the province’s use of Tordon 101 along our highways. So they decided to make a visual statement.

The results are striking images set on the lawn of Confederation Building and in Bannerman Park in St. John’s.

People in white suits splashing bright colour liquid and white powder everywhere. Little white “danger and poison” signs neatly placed around the area.

The white powder is talcum. The liquid is water and food colouring. But it’s all about the image, said a spokesperson for The Tordon Players.

“Our hope is that the images inspire people to question what is happening so that they then independently seek more information on the issue. Traditional protest is great, but we are interested in exploring other ways to take action including the public action as statement,” they wrote to The Telegram.

The Telegram reached The Tordon Players via e-mail. They said they are a group of concerned citizens who met online through their mutual disagreement with the provincial government’s roadside herbicide spraying program.

“We were all experiencing a great level of frustration over not only the issue but the government's response — or rather, lack of response — to concerns. The level of ignorance within the government over the dangers of these chemicals is breathtaking,” wrote the spokesperson.


“The ultimate goal is to end this spray program,” they added.

The players asked that their names be withheld for now. They said they wanted their actions to be about the group, rather than the individuals.

The group’s name is a play on words. Tordon 101 is a herbicide that’s been making a lot of local headlines lately.

Last year, the province banned the cosmetic use of five pesticide ingredients, and 2, 4-D (2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) was on that list. It’s also one of two main ingredients of Tordon 101.

The Department of Environment and Conservation has made it clear in the past that the ban does not apply to golf courses, farms or forestry and road-related usage. These are considered non-cosmetic.

The Department of Transportation and Works is in the midst of spraying large quantities of Tordon 101 along the sides of swaths of provincial roads.

The department uses the herbicide to help keep the sides of the roads clear of vegetation following a year of manual cutback.

Both departments, and their ministers, have vigorously defended the use of the pesticide in the media over the past month. Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson was even quoted to have compared Tordon 101 to table salt.

The Telegram contacted the Department of Environment, which has been taking the lead on this issue in the media, to ask for comment on the protest staged by The Tordon Players. Environment Minister Terry French declined to comment.

But the province has pointed out numerous times that Tordon 101 has been approved by Health Canada for use, and that it’s also widely used safely and effectively in pretty much every province — assuming the instructions for use are followed.

Despite all these arguments by the government, The Tordon Players, and other groups such as  the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides — NL, continues to insist that long-term exposure to Tordon 101 is dangerous and that they don’t want it used in this province.

There are studies that have linked 2, 4-D to developmental disorders in children, cancer and other diseases and conditions, they say.

“We believe if people become informed about the dangers of these chemicals they will be as outraged as we are. The main reason we protest is because we want the spraying to stop,” said the spokesperson.

“Even if these chemicals proved in the end to be totally safe there is enough question about the potential dangers that to continue with this program is the height of irresponsibility.”

The protests at the park and Confederation Building took place late last week. They went off without a hitch and even got a lot of honks of support, said the spokesperson.

A few kids were not impressed that their playground was commandeered for a photo-op, though.

“We had lots of great support from passersby in cars. We did have three incidents where concerns were raised and all three of these came from children,” they added.

“We took the time to explain what we were doing. It was very interesting to us that children had an immediate, instinctive response and that it was children who spoke up and questioned our actions.”

And the kids might have to share their playground again. The Tordon Players say that these were only the first of many such protests they plan to hold.

A blog of the group’s activities can be viewed online at

Twitter: @TelegramMacLean

This is a corrected version.

Organizations: The Tordon Players, Department of Environment and Conservation, Department of Transportation and Works Health Canada Coalition for Alternatives

Geographic location: Bannerman Park

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Recent comments

  • emily
    August 23, 2012 - 19:36

    Our highways would be safer from moose (we wouldn't need to worry so much about bush growth) if we increased the number of moose killed every year. Moose meat is delicious, local and a relatively cheap way to stock the freezers... all this AND it might mean that we can lay off putting poison on our beautiful land. Sounds like a good answer to me!!!