Hats off to those in the pesticide movement

I’m weird.

My family tells me this all the time.

We have no microwave at our house. We’re one of 15% of Canadian homes that manage to live their lives microwave-less. How come? Because it makes no sense to me to cook food in something I have to have checked annually for radiation leaks.

And so when Hugh Mackie called to tell me about the pesticide movement in Barrie, that made sense, too. As a twice or thrice daily dog walker, I have the same puzzlement about the poison people have put on their lawns to keep the weeds away. It’s kind of like choosing the weapon to avoid a much less significant danger. I yank my dog back onto the walk as she sniffs her way across that noxious grass, the air ripe with fumes.

I also feel the same way about pressure-treated wood… why would you build a dock from stuff that you’re not supposed to walk on? But, people do.

Now all this makes me sound judgemental; I’m not. I just don’t do it myself.

However, when Environmental Action Barrie recently petitioned the City of Barrie to look at banning pesticides on lawns and parks, it did make sense.

The tragedy of the deaths in Walkerton two summers ago was a huge wake-up call for Canadians. We’ve been absolutely complacent about our pure, healthy, beautiful water in this country. Walkerton was an alert for all of us that we’re ingesting chemicals, eating chemicals, wearing chemicals, cleaning with chemicals, walking on chemical fibres, drinking chemicals and we’ve tipped the scales. Hugh’s philosophy that pouring more chemicals onto our lawns means we’re pouring it directly into our storm sewers and ultimately into our drinking water is “dead” on. Emphasis could be on the word “dead.”

Mr. Mackie’s motivation to restrict pesticide use is the death of his wonderful Newfoundland dog after the dog ventured onto a pesticide-sprayed lawn. He was devastated when he realized that his dog was eating grass (a common dog-activity) before he (Mackie, that is) saw the pesticide sign.

The Citizens Concerned About Pesticides (CCAP) want the city to ban all cosmetic use of pesticides, which contain chemical herbicides, insecticides, and/or fungicides. The term pesticide doesn’t include ecologically sound, non toxic substances which are used to control unwanted plants, insects and fungi.

Air and water can become big health issues for City of Barrie residents, especially people with immune problems, allergies, asthma, arthritis and children and seniors. Those belonging to CCAP believe that using of pesticides is a threat, overloading the toxicity that’s bearable by our environment and our bodies.

The deputation cited all kinds of support studies, comments, and warnings from the medical community, school boards, environmental law associations, and environmentalists.

The environmental group has suggested to Barrie City Council that the bylaw should include
• prohibition of pesticide application on property owned by the City of Barrie (with some exceptions), on private property that’s near daycare centres, schools, seniors residences, long term care facilities, a hospital, watercourse, pond, or lake
• that after April, 2003, pesticides can’t be applied at all on public, private, business or institutional property within the City of Barrie
• that after April, 2005, no golf course can apply pesticides within the City of Barrie.

The suggested bylaw goes on to demand that signs must be posted in advance of permitted application and be left in place for four days, that the adjacent property owner must permit use of allowed pesticide applications, that bus stops and mailboxes should be protected from nearby application, that no pesticides can be applied when it’s raining or when the temperature is over 27 degrees Celsius.

Violations and fines are also included in the proposed bylaw.

The bylaw is worth reading. While I’m not involved with this group, I am sure sympathetic to what’s streaming along our gutters and making its way into our storm sewers.

As a society, it seems to be our nature to look at those leading an issue as “naysayers” or “tree huggers.” We often use derisive adjectives to describe people who are at the front of a movement. And we seldom say thanks later. I wonder if people had appeared before the Town of Walkerton to warn about the dangers of water run-off from nearby farmland… would they have been laughed out of town?

It’s important for each of us to not assume that someone else is taking care of these issues. They concern us all. And if you wouldn’t take the cap off a pesticide jug and have a swig yourself, why would you let it run off your lawn, into the storm sewers, into Kempenfelt Bay and then go for a swim or pour a drink from the tap?

I’m grateful to Hugh Mackie and the members of Citizens Concerned About Pesticides.