Wednesday, July 6, 2011

(Local) Group renews call for pesticide ban: West coast physician frustrated by government inaction

July 5, 2011

The St. John’s Telegram

BY DEANA STOKES SULLIVAN
THE TELEGRAM

Group renews call for pesticide ban
West coast physician frustrated by government inaction

Dr. Ian Simpson, a semi-retired physician on the province’s west coast, says he’s increasingly frustrated the provincial government still hasn’t taken action against pesticide use.

Simpson, co-chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, has been speaking out on the issue for several decades.

The coalition issued a news release Monday, repeating a call it makes every summer for the provincial government to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides such as 2,4-D, a common herbicide in weed-killing formulations.

Simpson, 75, who has been practising medicine for 50 years, said Monday when he started his career, he never saw children dying of lymphoma and leukemia.

“Now, I think, after road accidents, it’s the commonest cause of young children’s deaths. It’s mushroomed in my 50 years of medicine,” he said. Simpson believes pesticides may be contributing to this, in light of studies linking pesticides to various types of cancer.

“Unfortunately, people want the here and now. They want that smart green lawn,” he said. “My lawn doesn’t look bad, and it’s never had a pesticide in it in its life.”

Simpson began his crusade in the 1970s, when one of his patients delivered a stillborn baby in her seventh month of pregnancy. He said it didn’t make any sense to him because this woman was perfectly fit and healthy. But then she told him she knew what caused it. “I said, ‘What do you mean, you know?’” Simpson recalled. His patient told him she was one of six pregnant women who were teachers at a summer school on the west coast, or the wives of teachers, who were berry picking in Pasadena when they were sprayed with pesticide from a plane spraying a power line.

“They all lost their babies, I’m the last to lose one,” Simpson said the woman told him.

He wrote a report for the Department of Community Medicine and received a reply that the rate of stillbirths in that area wasn’t higher than anywhere else on the island.

Simpson said he immediately wrote back and informed the department the women were not all from the one area.

“There was one from Burin, one from Trinity, two from Avalon, two from Labrador and this lady that I have now as a patient. I said something must be done.” Nothing was done, Simpson said, and he fears pesticides could harm more people.

Simpson said health professionals in California have been collecting blood samples from pregnant women exposed to pesticide spray and are following up with their children. The research there, he said, has shown higher than normal rates of leukemia, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in these children.

The Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides notes in its latest news release former environment minister Charlene Johnson told The Telegram last year the issue of cosmetic pesticide use was getting high priority by her department. She added, however, a U.S. company was challenging a Canadian pesticide ban in court and she’d like details of the case before making a decision.

The coalition said that court challenge was recently settled, with the province of Quebec being allowed to uphold its 2003 cosmetic pesticide ban. The David Suzuki Foundation has termed it an important signal to other provinces.

In February, the coalition said current Environment Minister Ross Wiseman told CBC he hoped to “bring forward a recommendation to cabinet in the very near future.” It’s now urging the minister again to take action or “risk the embarrassment of being the last place in Canada” without such a ban to protect the health and safety of adults, pets and children.

According to the coalition, there are bans in Quebec, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and many municipalities in British Columbia.

Wiseman was travelling Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Simpson said this issue is now a political one, and the coalition hopes to step up its lobby prior to the provincial election this fall.

The lawn care companies always argue their pesticides are legal and safe, Simpson said, but Health Canada, while approving some pesticides, has never said they’re safe.

“They’ve said that it’s appropriate to use it under strict conditions. In fact, they have told different lawn care companies in Ontario, you can’t say they’re safe. You can be sued for that,” Simpson said.

Another division of Health Canada also specifically warns that pregnant women, small children, pets and people with allergies should make every effort to stay far away from these pesticides, Simpson said.

And, he said, a pediatric group from McGill University in Montreal published a study last year showing that residue from 2,4-D is long lasting and can spread from sprayed lawns through neighbourhoods like dust, getting on children’s shoes and into homes where no pesticides are used.

“Studies in Saskatchewan also showed residues coming down in the rain kilometres away from where it was sprayed,” Simpson said.

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