Ever since last year, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that municipal governments have the right to limit or ban the cosmetic use of lawn chemicals and other related poisons, the Region of Waterloo has been spinning its wheels on the issue. In that time, no one at the Region has been able to explain why action on pesticides has been so painfully slow.

It’s not like there is a shortage of information (both scientific and anecdotal) suggesting that pesticides are harmful to humans, animals and desirable plant species.

Here’s an excerpt from just one scientific study regarding pesticides and the health of children:

“Children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental toxins. This heightened susceptibility stems from several sources. Children have greater exposures to environmental toxins than adults. Pound for pound of body weight, children drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air than do adults. For example, children ages one through five years eat three to four times more food per pound than the average adult American. The air intake of a resting infant is twice that of an adult per pound of body weight. These patterns of increased consumption reflect the rapid metabolism of children. The implication for environmental health is that children will have substantially heavier exposures pound for pound than adults to any toxins that are present in water, food, or air.

“Two additional characteristics of children further magnify their exposures to toxins in the environment: 1) their hand-to-mouth behaviour, which increases their ingestion of any toxins in dust or soil, and 2) their likelihood of playing close to the ground, which increases their exposure to toxins in dust, soil, and carpets as well as to any toxins that form low-lying layers in the air, such as certain pesticide vapours. Children’s metabolic pathways are immature compared with those of adults. As a consequence of this biological immaturity, children’s ability to detoxify and excrete certain toxins is different from that of adultsâe¦ Most commonly, they are less able than adults to deal with toxic chemicals and thus they are more vulnerable to them.

“Children are undergoing rapid growth and development, and their developmental processes are easily disrupted. Many organ systems in young children — the nervous system, the reproductive organs, the immune system — undergo very rapid growth and development in the first months and years of life. During this period, structures are developed and vital connections are established. Indeed, development of the nervous system continues all through childhood, as is evidenced by the fact that children continue to acquire new skills progressively as they grow and develop-crawling, walking, talking, reading, and writing. The nervous system is not well able to repair any structural damage that is caused by environmental toxins. Thus, if cells in the developing brain are destroyed by chemicals such as lead, mercury, or solvents, or if vital connections between nerve cells fail to form, there is high risk that the resulting neurobehavioral dysfunction will be permanent and irreversible. The consequences can be loss of intelligence and alteration of normal behaviour.

“Because children have more future years of life than do most adults, they have more time to develop chronic diseases that may be triggered by early environmental exposures. Many diseases that are triggered by toxins in the environment require decades to develop … Many of those diseases are now thought to be the products of multistage processes within the body’s cells that require many years to evolve from earliest initiation to actual manifestation of illness.”

Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Source: “National Academy of Sciences: Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children.” Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993.

There’s no reason that our Pavlovian aversion to dandelions should take precedence over public health. Given that some people will continue to spray as long as they are allowed to, it makes sense for our municipal leaders to show some leadership. The best thing they could do would be to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides completely (which is what Hudson, Quebec did and what the Supreme Court said they had a right to do). Anything less would be a missed opportunity.

Your chance to influence the Region’s pesticide policy will come on October 30, when the Region holds a Symposium on Nonessential Pesticide Use, and on November 12, when it holds a Public Forum on Nonessential Pesticide Use (the difference between a Symposium and a Public Forum may escape most citizens, but it would appear that the first meeting is designed to pass on information to the public, while the second is designed to decide on a direction to be taken). The chemical companies will be well represented at both sessions. It’s important that someone be there to speak up for people.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for rabble.ca. He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...