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Monday 27 November 2000
Pesticides prompt public debate
Michael Lau,
Calgary Herald

Environmentalists calling for a near ban on bug and weed spraying by the parks department are expected to square off in a heated debate Wednesday with city officials.

The meeting of the operations and environment subcommittee will include more than 100 opponents of city pesticide use, said Barb Kinnie, of the Sierra Club of Calgary.

"There are a lot of people concerned about this issue -- there are a lot more people who want to be there but can't be because they have to work," Kinnie said of the open meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m. in council chambers.

"They've set aside a huge space because they know this is a heated issue."

Pesticides have been linked to chemical sensitivities, reproductive problems and cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, she said.

"It's really hard to make a definitive, conclusive argument that says pesticides are the only cause.

"But what we do know is that it is the chemical soup that people are exposed to. There are so many chemicals and we know not all of these chemicals are safe and we know pesticides are in that group of chemicals."

Equally important, Kinnie said, are the environmental impacts of pesticides.

"They're affecting our water, soil and air -- and the chemicals persist in the environment. They persist because they don't break down the way natural things do."

However, Todd Reichardt, director of the city's integrated pest management program, said the link between pesticides and health problems is weak at best.

"There is almost nothing there in terms of the relationship between the use of pesticides and some of the cancers that people are talking about," said Reichardt.

"If you remove genetics, environment, diet, lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, driving and stress, it's tenuous."

Nonetheless, the city is trying to reduce the potential risk, said Reichardt.

"We do spot treatments, we use products that are deemed relatively safe by the federal government, we try to go with very specific products, products that are selective for certain weeds."

The city gives extensive notification to communities by telephone and signage, he said.

"I'm not aware of any other city in Canada that goes to the lengths we do to notify homeowners about our intent to do spraying."

Ald. Jon Lord said the issue is rife with conflicting viewpoints. "I want to ensure we're presented with factual, not emotional, information, a balanced discussion, a recognition there are not only two sides to every coin and that it's not a fear-mongering kind of discussion," said Lord, who chairs the subcommittee.

The committee has received more than 100 letters on the issue, he said.

In 1997, Calgary parks and recreation used 7,577 litres of liquid pesticide and 16,212 kilograms of solid pesticide.

The Sierra Club is demanding the city:

* implement a 95-per-cent reduction of pesticide use within three years, with a minimum reduction of 50 per cent in the first year.

* take dandelions off the "noxious" weed list. The designation now means the city can force removal of dandelions, which normally leads to spraying.

* implement an aggressive public education program to educate homeowners on the dangers of pesticides and of safer alternatives.


Barb Kinnie
Sierra Club of Calgary
Campaign For Pesticide Reduction