City hears argument for going pesticide free

Environmental group raising the alarm that citizens are potentially being exposed to the toxic effects of pesticides

A community environmental group is raising the alarm that citizens, and in particular children, are potentially being exposed to the toxic effects of pesticides.

The Campbell River Environmental Committee said the city has been using pesticides – which come in the form of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides – on its playing fields and on sidewalks despite the city’s acknowledgment that such use poses a human risk.

The City of Campbell River’s website states that how management of pests is carried out is important because, “Even low levels of pesticide exposure can pose a potential risk to the health and well-being of our families, especially children.”

Which is why Catherine Holmes, a member of the Environmental Committee, said it’s so concerning that the city has resorted to the use of the herbicide Trillion on the city’s sports fields, especially in light of the recent signing of the Children’s Charter which is in place to ensure the safety of the community’s young ones.

“The first point in this charter states, ‘access to safe places to live, work and play.’ Pesticide use has no place under these new guidelines for the protection of children’s health,” Holmes said during a presentation to council at last week’s Monday financial planning meeting. “The ones who are most vulnerable to pesticide exposure – children – are the ones with no voice.”

Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, said Trillion is used as an absolute last resort.

He said the city has an integrated pest management policy which states that other weed control methods, such as seeding, fertilizing, and aerating are considered first.

But, Milnthorp said, it’s been difficult for the city to put that into practice in recent years.

“We have not had the resources in the last few years to implement that program properly so we have had a weed outbreak on some of our fields,” Milnthorp said. “We have had to revert to spraying pesticides on the sports fields to control these outbreaks as a last resort.”

According to the city’s website, depending on the type of product, pesticides can induce minor skin or eye irritation, poisoning and even death. They can also pollute soil and groundwater.

Milnthorp said efforts are made to protect the public, and that when herbicides are applied – typically in the spring – the fields are closed and signs are put up on the sports fields before, during and for 24 hours after the application.

The city also uses a Roundup-type product to kill weeds that pop up along the cracks between the sidewalk and the curb and along the edges of gutters and public parking lots.

Ron Neufeld, deputy city manager and general manager of operations, said the limited application is typically done in the mornings and not done in sensitive areas.

“We use alternate products, weather-dependent, closer to streams,” Neufeld said. “However, our experience with that product is that it is somewhat less effective and also more expensive than the Roundup-type product.”

Still, Leona Adams, president of the Campbell River Environmental Committee, said that in 2015 the World Health Agency classified glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – as probably carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans and that alone should entice council to declare Campbell River a pesticide-free community.

“I would like to see the cautionary principle brought into decisions like this,” Adams said. “I would hope that you would give serious consideration to moving away from using pesticides and looking at what the other communities are doing where they’re not.”

Powell River, Courtenay, Nanaimo, Coquitlam, Vancouver and Qualicum Beach are all pesticide-free communities, according to Adams.

Mayor Andy Adams said the city’s environmental coordinator does liaise with other communities that have gone pesticide free and actively monitors what is working and what isn’t.

“It would be great if there was a pest control product deemed acceptable but is also effective and I think that’s what we’re going to work towards,” Mayor Adams said. “This is something, with the signing of the Children’s Charter, that is on all of our minds and I know city staff do their best to do the applications at times that are least invasive.”

He added that before council is prepared make a decision on pesticides, that the issue will need to be referred back to city staff to report back to council on the costs of eliminating pesticides and coming up with alternatives.