Several seniors in Williams Lake are hoping the city will move to ban the use of cosmetic herbicides because they believe the chemicals, specifically Par III, impact their health when they are sprayed into the air.
Canadian Cancer Society office manager in Williams Lake Ian Mackay is missing part of one lung and said there’s an odour to the chemicals used on lawns that hurts his breathing.
“My lungs are suffering and it’s a concern,” Mackay said. “I think there are a lot of people in the community like us. Even the people spraying are wearing masks, so it cannot be good for you.”
Since Mackay began voicing complaints, he’s heard from more and more people who have similar concerns.
Glen Lahey operates Weed and Free Lawn care in Williams Lake and said he does use Par III Turf Herbicide and it’s perfectly legal.
Some of the lawns he services don’t require any Par III because they’ve been well-maintained.
He is licensed to use herbicides, and has not had many complaints in 25 years, he said, adding he’s cut down his use of chemicals drastically.
“I had three or four people who were allergic to the smell of the fertilizer and all we do is call them up, let them know, they shut their windows and they are fine.”
Lahey said he uses such a “small amount” on weed control.
His company has been trying to go more natural and has been educating customers on how to sharpen lawn blades and develop watering routines that are more effective. He also uses a double hose system so that only the areas with weeds get sprayed.
“Fourteen or 15 years ago they used to just spray weed control over the whole lawn so they didn’t have to come back,” Lahey recalled.
In 2012, the B.C. Government’s special committee on cosmetic pesticides released a decision not to recommend a provincial ban on the use of pesticides.
“The committee assessed all the evidence carefully, taking more time than originally planned, and the majority of members concluded that currently there is insufficient scientific evidence to warrant a province-wide ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides,” the report noted.
Over the counter sales of weed control were banned last year because of misuse, Lahey said.
“They left it with the commercial companies to handle and that’s us. Health Canada basically said as long as it’s used properly by licensed people there’s no harm in it.”
The Canadian Cancer Society Southern B.C. chapter said around 40 municipalities have adopted bylaws restricting the use of pesticides and herbicides on private and public lawns and gardens.
In Williams Lake there is no ban, yet as a rule city crews only use a tiny bit of Roundup in some areas.
“We use almost none when it comes to herbicides and pesticides,” the city confirmed.
Kamloops adopted a bylaw restricting the use of pesticides and herbicides in March 2010, however, under the bylaw licensed companies can still use Par III.
Brent Blysma owns Culture Care Landscaping in Kamloops. He stopped using Par III five years ago and has chosen to get away from herbicides and pesticides as much as possible.
“We don’t spray any pesticides or herbicides,” Blysma said. “Pesticides and herbicides are not good. If they kill something it’s not good and they aren’t good for my crew’s health or the environment.”
His company does, however, subcontract to provide spraying of herbicides and pesticides if customers want them.
Blysma used Par III previously to take care of weeds in lawns because it is “incredibly efficient,” does an excellent job, and is inexpensive, compared to labour. “If I did use it, it was because of the demand of the customer,” he said.
“They wanted weeds gone on the lawn but wouldn’t pay $1,000 for us to pick them out by hand.”
Blysma, like Lahey, has been educating his customers.
“The best thing to do is grow an appreciation for dandelions and realize it’s OK if there are weeds in your lawn,” he said, adding people need to keep their lawns healthy.
“The more healthy your lawns are then they will choke the weeds out.”
Patti King is a team leader and health educator with the Canadian Cancer Society, based in Cranbrook, and said rather than targeting one chemical the society opposes what chemicals are being used for.
“If chemicals are being used to enhance a lawn or garden, our stance is that we call for a ban for use on private and public lands, such as parks, sports fields, especially places where children are.”
Children are a special concern because they are still developing, King said, adding there is growing body of evidence linking exposure to pesticides with a higher risk to certain adult and childhood cancers.
“Last year the Ontario College of Family Physicians did a pesticides literature review and it showed consistent links to serious illnesses such as reproductive problems, respiratory problems and neurological diseases linked with pesticide exposure,” King said.
Mckay said the next step will be to create public awareness in Williams Lake and hopefully make a presentation to city hall.
“I can’t believe that people would spray their lawns if they knew that it poses a health risk to others,” he said.