City to examine alternatives to pesticides

Herald file photo.

The City of Prince Albert is examining alternatives to pesticide for weed control.

Council voted to examine possible alternatives during Monday’s meeting. Coun. Charlene Miller had put forward a motion to end the use of chemical pesticides by the city.

Reached by phone, Miller said she had seen and read news pieces about some negative health impacts associated with pesticide use and wanted to see if the city could end its use.

“I’d like them to see if they can find something (else) first of all, and then move forward from there,” she said.

“I hope they do find an alternative because I believe we have to go in that direction.”

When local resident Estelle Hjertaas saw Miller’s motion on the agenda, she signed up to address council. Hjertaas has chemical sensitivities to products like pesticides. If she’s in an area that’s been sprayed recently, Hjertaas can get sick. But that’s not the only reason she wanted to speak to the matter.

“I care about the issue personally because I get sick myself, but also because I am aware of the health issues surrounding pesticides that affect everybody,” she said.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to educate council about … what the alternatives to pesticides are.”

Monsanto, the company which manufactures Roundup, lost a $289 million lawsuit in California last August after claiming the pesticide gave him cancer. DeWayne Lee Johnson was a groundskeeper and developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He argued that years of applying Roundup and Ranger Pro to school properties caused the form of cancer.

Activists praised the decision.

It’s time to get carcinogenic pesticides off the market and fight for the protective regulations we all deserve,” Pesticide Action Network’s Linda Wells told the L.A. Times.

But Monsanto refuted the connection between its pesticides and cancer.

“We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, according to the L.A. Times. “Today’s decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews — and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world — support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer.”

Different regulatory bodies have come to different conclusions as to whether Roundup is a carcinogen. The Europe-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, found it could be, while the US-based EPA and its EU counterparts disagree.

Other pesticides have been linked to bee deaths, as well as other health outcomes.

According to Hjertaas, Saskatchewan stands alone for still allowing the use of cosmetic pesticides.

“Every province except Saskatchewan has already banned or limited cosmetic pesticide use,” she said.

“This isn’t a new issue, and it’s not like we’ll be alone looking for alternatives. If there’s an infestation, those (existing) laws have exceptions to still use pesticides where there’s an emergency or an insect problem. But for just spraying because there are dandelions in the lawn, no one does that except Saskatchewan now.”

Currently, the city says it puts up signs once an area has been sprayed, and it lists the areas of spraying on its website. But Hjertaas said there have been times signs haven’t been put up and the website not updated until days after the spraying occurred.

“It’s difficult to see it ahead of time if someone wants to avoid going somewhere that’s been sprayed,” she said.

For someone like her, who gets sick around pesticides, that can make the summer difficult.

“If there’s no signage and you get sick or don’t want to be exposed, there’s basically no way around it. It can be quite frustrating.”

Hjertaas did add that the city’s parks manager has been good at communicating with her prior to spraying and that the city sprayed less this summer while waiting until after major events to apply pesticides. She also forwarded an email to the city with possible alternatives, including growing healthier grass in large areas and using tools that burn or steam plants to kill them for use on sidewalks and boulevards.

Other, larger cities, such as Calgary and Edmonton, have used herds of goats with professional shepherds to take on areas filled with weeds without resorting to a chemical-based solution.

Council as a whole seemed willing to take a look. If there’s an alternative to spraying out there, Mayor Greg Dionne would prefer to not use chemical pesticides on city property.

“I do understand the concern,” he said.

‘The key is to find something to replace it with.”

Dionne said that even if the city could reduce the amount it sprays, that it would be a positive development.

“Even if we can cut down our use, we’re ahead,” he said.

As for Hjertaas, she doesn’t think alternatives to spraying will have anyone missing the days of pesticides.

“The issue is one of land management. You want to be looking at how to grow healthy grass. You could fertilize, water, plant a mix of grass or different plants, and there are companies that specifically address that and help to get the right soil chemistry,” she said.

“If the city switches to alternatives, either nobody will notice, or they’ll notice that the lawns look better.”