Other cities kick the spray habit, but T.O. still kills weeds the poisonous way
Shocking as it seems, public institutions in this city continue to spray pesticides on our green spaces despite a long-articulated plan for a phase-out. NA survey of a number of city departments, commissions and boards reveals that the addiction to toxic gardening is extremely difficult to defeat despite increasing info on the potential harm to children and our landscape.
The Catholic District School Board still uses herbicides, applying weed-and-feed on Fridays during the spring months, and as late as July, public libraries were still spraying at a few branches.
Toronto’s works department, which maintains city sidewalks and roadways, also uses the chemical stuff, including Monsanto’s controversial herbicide Roundup, the compound recommended by the company for spraying its genetically modified crops.
Roundup is also used by parks and rec, but the department has cut its pesticide use by 97 per cent and is taking the lead on the city’s pesticide phase-out subcommittee.
There have been five applications of Roundup in city parks so far this year, according to the department. In four of those instances, it was used to kill poison ivy.
“We’re still looking for a better way than Roundup. But right now it’s our best way,” says Arthur Beauregard, the manager of natural environment and horticulture in the parks department.
Even the Toronto Zoo, which for a number of years has largely steered clear of killer chemicals to fend off unwanted weeds and bugs, still uses Roundup “extremely sparingly,” according to horticulture manager Marg Fleming.
“The minute that compound hits the soil, it’s detoxified,” Fleming asserts. “So there’s no chance it’s going to run into any waterways and harm any wildlife.”
But not everyone shares this view of Roundup.
“The problem is that it’s not non-toxic and biodegradable as Monsanto advertises,” says Janet May, pesticide campaign director at the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), who also sits on the city’s pesticide subcommittee. “It actually does leach out of the soil and into water, where it is highly toxic to aquatic life.”
Recent reports by both the Canadian Institute of Child Health and the Canadian Environmental Law Association recognize chemical pesticides in general as potentially detrimental to children’s health as a result of long-term exposure.
Tests on animals reveal that some chemicals can affect endocrine and nervous systems and have the potential in the long term to be cancer-causing.
“Cosmetic use of pesticides has no real benefit to the child,” says physician Graham Chance, who oversaw the Institute’s report. “There’s certainly the potential for a small dose of a cumulatively harmful chemical.”
The public school board has already stopped using pesticides altogether. All Metro area boards refused to spray at least two years before amalgamation, says spokesperson Leslie Hetherington.
At the separate school board, where chemicals are still employed, Corrado Maltese, senior manager of occupational health and safety, says, “We’re looking at minimizing the use or just totally banning them.”
This summer the library board decided to cut out pesticides altogether.
“Basically, we’re waiting for the city to have an overall policy, and we’re going to follow it,” says Philip Vukasinovic, manager of facilities at the library board, which only recently stopped spraying at all of its facilities. “Just so we’re onside, we just stopped.”
But how long will it take for the city to put a plan in place? Council adopted a ban on pesticides in principle back in December 1998, and the city was hoping to phase out use in all departments “except in emergency situations or other exceptions” by 1999. Well, here we are a year later and the city’s environmental subcommittee is still beavering away trying to bring everybody onside.
Toronto Hydro still sprays two to three times a year on paved areas and once a year on grassy areas around its facilities, according to spokesperson Laurie McFadden. And she says Hydro does use Roundup.
The TTC says it has stopped using pesticides for landscaping. However, it still deploys them near transformers and substations to control growth. And Roundup is used to kill weeds on subway track beds.
Says the TTC’s Scott Brubacher, “We have to do it for safety reasons.”
But the TEA’s May believes city institutions will come up with environmentally friendly alternatives if they put their minds to it.
“If you know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, you can come in with a solution that means you don’t need to be using pesticides.”