Landscapers bemoan pesticide ban

Published on July 15, 2011
Rod Squires, owner of Complete Pest Control in St. John’s, does not think there is enough evidence to prove pesticide use on lawns is harmful to public health. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

While landscapers in Newfoundland and Labrador may not be entirely surprised by the provincial government’s decision to ban the use and sale of pesticides for cosmetic lawn care purposes, they do not appreciate being singled out.

“The problem we have with it is they banned it for just one industry and not for golf courses, greenhouse operators or sod producers,” said Doreen Layman, president of Landscape Newfoundland and Labrador.

“If a product is deemed to be harmful to the public’s health and to the environment, then shouldn’t it be totally banned?”

The ban, which comes into effect next year, includes carbaryl, 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), mecoprop, dicamba, and MCPA (2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid). They are mostly used to kill or control garden weeds and insects.

It does not affect non-cosmetic pesticide uses, including golf courses, agriculture and forestry use and road and infrastructure maintenance.

Mike Rabinowitz, an organic farmer in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, said the environment is better off without the presence of chemical pesticides.

“I think this is good, and we could expand it further,” he said.

Rod Squires, owner of Complete Pest Control in St. John’s, contends there are no studies showing the banned products are harmful.

“I’ve been using pesticides myself for the last 25 years, and thank God — knock on wood — I still have my health,” he said.

Non-profit groups think otherwise, according to new releases from Thursday.

The Canadian Cancer Society referenced evidence pointing to links between pesticide use and cancer, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Lung Association said the ban will benefit the health of asthmatics.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association also voiced its approval of the ban.

“Numerous Canadian medical research organizations have produced convincing evidence that pesticides play a role in the development of human cancers, including childhood non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” said NLMA president Dr. Sandra Luscombe, also a pediatrician. “Evidence also suggests that the harmful effects of pesticides can profoundly influence the developmental processes of the fetus and newborn children.”

The timing of the announcement comes three months prior to the Oct. 11 provincial election, and Don Barry, owner of Servicemaster Lawn Care in St. John’s, does not believe this is a coincidence.

“It was a political move,” he said. “It’s not based on science, and if it were based on science, there wouldn’t be an issue.”

Price increases and an adjustment in consumer expectations will be two aftershocks resulting from the province’s decision according to Layman, who co-owns Mr. Turf in Mount Pearl with her husband Scott.

“Results may take a bit longer, there might be more services involved to get the same results, and expectations will have to change.”

Barry is weary of using alternative products like insecticidal soaps or corn gluten meal, finding their effectiveness limited based on past experiences.

Insecticidal soaps are suggested for controlling cinch bugs, but Barry found them to be particularly ineffective.

“People who have an infestation with that particular bug will pretty much have a destroyed lawn,” he said. “They don’t work.”

Layman, who has worked in lawn care for 23 years, experienced mixed results using alternative products. Mr. Turf has introduced organic lawn care options in recent years.

She said each lawn care company will have to determine what works best for them.

Barry expects the ban will result in layoffs at his property maintenance company, which currently employs 35 workers.

He said the impact of the pesticide ban on lawns may be tempered if the City of St. John’s enforced a bylaw requiring six-inches of topsoil for new homes.

“If we have that down, that will go a long way in maintaining a property and allowing it to bounce back from an infestation.”

While the government may be able to control companies, Layman suspects some lawn owners will resort to hoarding pesticides or purchasing them outside the province.