Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Tuesday Toxin Talk

I'm currently reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, by Rick Smith (Executive Director of Environmental Defence) and Bruce Lourie (President of the Ivey Foundation). The book examines the toxins that leach out of commonplace items in our homes and workplaces and wind up in our bodies. Smith and Lourie experiment on themselves, purposely exposing themselves to everyday products over a four-day period, and use the results to raise awareness about the dangers that surround us. I'd like to use this space every few Tuesdays to share some of this vital information with you. For more in-depth coverage, please buy the book!


Let's talk about pesticides.

I might as well begin with a fact: every year in the US, lawns are sprayed with 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides. I don't need to tell you that this is a serious problem - and that's before I reveal the kinds of health problems associated with 2,4-D, the most widely used herbicide in the world. 2,4-D is a "weed and feed" product, which does exactly that: it simultaneously fertilizes lawns while controlling the weeds that try to take hold there. 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid is a synthetic chemical "hormone herbicide", meaning it messes with plants' hormone systems in order to kill them by causing them first to grow uncontrollably, then suddenly die. This unique strategy is not the only attractive feature of 2,4-D: the herbicide also selectively targets weeds like dandelions without harming grass. No wonder it is considered to be the perfect remedy for unwanted plants not only on residential lawns but also in fields of corn, grains, and rice, all of which are in the grass family.

So, what makes 2,4-D such a bad product? Consider these short-term effects of exposure:
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • vomiting
  • eye irritation
  • difficulty breathing
  • lack of coordination
Would you want to experience any of that just because you happened to walk past a lawn while 2,4-D was being sprayed? Much more harrowing are the long-term consequences of getting this stuff in your system:
  • non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (a blood cancer)
  • neurological impairment
  • asthma
  • immune system suppression
  • reproductive problems
  • miscarriage
  • birth defects

The good news is that the City of Toronto banned the cosmetic use of pesticides way back in 2004, which means eight summers have already gone by during which, presumably, only very little 2,4-D has come anywhere near me and those I hold dear in this city. Hundreds of other municipalities in Canada have passed similar bylaws, and to date there are province-wide bans (some looser, some stricter) in Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI, as well as restrictions on the use of "weed and feed" products specifically in Alberta. The province of British Columbia is working on a ban, too.

There are, of course, still many areas in which there are no regulations on the use of pesticides. But I am hopeful because concerned members of those communities can and will organize movements to achieve this goal - that's exactly how the first municipal bylaw banning pesticides was passed in Canada! There are a growing number of us who care, who are worried, who want the government to take action to protect us. After all, this is a no-brainer of an issue. Weed-free lawns are not only unnecessary, they're making us sick!

Image of chemical structure of 2, 4-D sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of grass lawn used under Creative Commons from AdamKR (flickr).
Photo of pesticide sign used under Creative Commons from Michelle Tribe (Greencolander/flickr).


  1. What is interesting to me is that the local news may not cover a story like this until it is too late. They usually need someone to contact them and say my son or daughter has contracted this illness because of this product. And at the same time, the newscast will gloss over the Occupy ___ street protests and claim that they are directionless youth who have too much time on their hands.
    Big money controls a lot, and I think we may be entering a time when more people are willing to support local people than they are a big conglomerate.

  2. I guess it's not considered news? Unless they wanted to mention that a new report was published that explains the findings of a recent scientific study on 2,4-D. And there was a lot of press around the passing of the legislation that banned cosmetic pesticide use in Ontario, so that's something.

    Big money controls more and more and more with each passing day. It's nice to see people supporting the little guys!