Economic Impact

The Economic Impact of Banning Lawn and Garden Pesticides:

Today, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have all banned the sale and use (to varying degrees) of lawn care pesticides, the justification being that chemical should be treated as guilty before proven innocent. This is known as the precautionary principle. Currently, there is a significant lack of scientific studies ont he chronic health effects of most pesticides.

The World Health organization estimates that human pesticide poisonings compose the greatest cost of using pesticides. There are an estimated 1 million poisonings and 20,000 deaths around the world every year.[1] Despite the statistics on acute effects, the chronic health effects are poorly documented. The authors of one study placed a value on an average human life of $2 million dollars. Based on this assessment, they say, in the United States, pesticide poisonings and related illnesses cost the U.S. about $787 million a year.[2]

The landscape industry will have to adapt to a ban, but this has been easily done in other jurisdictions. Many stakeholders ask if banning pesticides will hurt the economy. The short answer is that banning pesticides will not hurt the economy. It does benefit economies, as shown in many jurisdictions. When pesticides are not used, other methods such as hand weeding must be employed.[3] This is more labour intensive, which will require companies to hire more employees and create jobs in a province which needs them. In addition, productivity will increase because less sick days are taken due to the fact that people are no longer sick from pesticide poisoning.

Since Halifax introduced a bylaw banning pesticides, the number of lawn care companies in the city increased from 118 to 180, according to Statistics Canada. The number of employees increased as well. The same thing happened in Toronto when that city banned pesticides.[4]

Toronto introduced an anti-pesticide bylaw in 2003, (which came into force in 2004) and lawn care companies began to receive penalties for using pesticides in September 2005. The lawn care industry grew and 35|% fewer people reported using pesticides in 2005 than in 2003. However, all pesticides remained for sale in Toronto, which confused the public.[5]

Companies that already use alternatives to chemical pesticides, such as Nutri-Lawn, will prosper under a ban and gain more clientele.[6] In terms of homeowner consumption, organic products are more profitable, according to stores like Loblaws and Canadian Tire which carry them.[7]

When Massachusetts implemented a Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) with the objective being a 50% reduction in 190 chemicals by 1998, the economic impact was positive- companies saved $88 million in operating costs, and the federal government granted about $2 million to these companies that complied with the Act. About 1,000 companies had to design a plan stating how they would reduce their use of toxic chemicals. A fee was levied on these companies which was reduced or increased depending on the size of the company. Keep in mind that the Act did not require companies to comply with the plan they developed, but many of them did so voluntarily. As a result, toxic chemical use was reduced by 41%, toxic by-products decreased by 65%, and toxic chemical shipped in products by 58%.[8]

Green jobs were predicted to be created in Ontario when it brought in a pesticide ban on over 250 chemicals. Organic lawn care companies were already experiencing an increase in business, such as Turf Logic from Barrie, and Environmental Factor from Oshawa. Many organic lawn care products such as corn gluten meal, horticultural vinegar, compost and beneficial nematodes (worms) are produced in Ontario, so a ban supports these industries, as most chemical pesticides are imported from the United States or Europe.[9]

Grassroots Environmental Education in New York analysed the costs of maintaining a school’s football field with pesticides versus organically by seeding, aerating and fertilizing with composting. They found it was significantly cheaper to maintain the field organically in the long run, as soil quality improved. For the first five years, there would be a 7% costs savings, and after that, a savings of 25%.[10] New York has enacted a law that pesticides are not permitted to be used on school playing fields. The authors of this study used the example of Marblehead, Massachusetts’s municipal pesticide ban where all pesticides are banned on city property. This was the first community in the United States to follow the example of Hudson, Quebec.[11]

In addition, pesticide bans promote innovation in the organic lawn care industry.[12] However, the golf industry is deeply concerned. This industry uses huge amounts of pesticides, although course operators must be IPM certified in Ontario since the pesticide ban occurred and this means they are allowed to use pesticides as a last resort. Lorne Hepworth of Crop Life Canada opined “Politics has trumped science here. Polling has trumped science” but Lisa Gue of the David Suzuki Foundation said governments must err on the side of caution. [13] To illustrate the amount of chemical used by the golf industry, a 1999 project found 31 pesticides present in a water body next to a golf course.[14]

One barrier to a ban on pesticides is the threat of lawsuits against governments. Dow AgroScience, LLC has sued the federal government for allowing Quebec to ban 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), a common herbicide Dow manufactures. This product is Associated with non Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia and sarcoma and childhood blastoma, as well as canine bladder cancer. It is also linked to sperm abnormalities, increased rates of miscarriage, infertility in women and birth defects. It can cause neurological impairment such as dizziness, loss of muscle coordination and fatigue and weakness was noted on labels of this product for applicators but not for homeowners and finally it is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism and ADHD.[15]

Although Dow is an American company, Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement sates an American corporation with a Canadian investment is permitted to take legal action against a government for enacting legislation that may harm its profit margin. This high- profile case has not been decided yet.[16]

There is definite disagreement on the effects of 2,4-D and its risks to human health. The current Canadian trend, however, seems to be following the wishes of the majority and banning products which appear very harmful using the precautionary principle. Justice Dube was the first judge to use the precautionary principle in Canada when she ruled that the town of Hudson was allowed to ban pesticides in order to protect the health of citizens. In the words of Hudson’s lawyer, “Chemicals are guilty until proven innocent”.[17]

The Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s assessment of 2,4-D does mention the economic gains of using the product as  a broadleaf herbicide. The 2008 assessment also says that 2,4-D is often mixed with other herbicides and is  found in most registered pesticide products in Canada. However, the PMRA does not provide an assessment of the safety of these mixes, even though it says they are effective and thus using them reduces the number of applications of 2,4-D that are needed. The products which contain the DEA form of 2,4-D have been discontinued in Canada because the DEA form was extremely carcinogenic to rats.[18] When chlorophenoxy herbicides are manufactured, products called polychlorodibenzodioxins are produced, these are called PCDDs. PCDDs with four or more chlorine atoms bind with the Aryl Hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) in mammals and produce effects such as endocrine disruption, diabetes and fertility and reproductive problems.[19]

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) is scheduled to ban PCDDs with two or more chlorine atoms. 2,4-D is a lower chlorinated dioxin but the “Proposed Acceptability for Continuing Registration” Act published by PMRA (of  Health Canada) for 2,4-D was published before the industry had given them their information on dioxin analysis and the PMRA only asked for analysis of compounds with four or more chlorine atoms.[20]

2,4-D will break down into components but the PMRA does not assess the toxicity for these components. It produces 2,4 dichlorophenol which is found in the urine of random samples of test subjects int he United States. This product is considered a carcinogen (cancer causing substance) by the International agency for Research on Cancer.[21]

However,  2,4-D is usually mixed with other products and in the assessment the toxicity of these products was not considered in the re-evaluation of 2008. Racemic Mecoprop is found in many mixtures that also contain 2,4-D, but is now being recalled as the manufacturers would not submit new data on it. It was sold to homeowners until 2009.[22]

As Quinlan states the PMRA has two goals which possibly conflict. One is to manage the health of Canadians, while the other is to provide the public with the chemical tools needed to grow plants of all sorts and protect against infestations and disease. He notes that lawn care is a non-essential practice and increases human health risk, as children play on these lawns. Quinlan notes that the PMRA’s evaluation of 2,4-D was done in 2008 after Quebec and Ontario had decided it was too dangerous to use. In this document, vague blanket sentences state things like 2,4-D is approved in the EU. Quinlan notes that Norway, Denmark and Sweden, which are all EU countries, have actually banned 2,4-D. Health Canada did acknowledge the extensive literature review published by the Ontario College of Family Physicians, but said simply that 2,4-D was “associated with adverse health effects.[23] It should noted that in contrast to the scrutiny that pharmaceuticals are put under, there is no such assessment of the long term effects of 2,4-D.[24]

One type of independent study that examines the chronic health effects of pesticides was recently completed. Scientists have known for years that Agricultural workers die from melanoma but it is now linked to their pesticide use as well as sun exposure. Sevin is one lawn insecticide containing carbyryl, which was recognized as a cause of melanoma by the study. Rates of cancer were compared for farm workers and what types of pesticides they were using as compared to peers who were handling other chemicals. And, if people use pesticides indoors more than four times a year have twice the melanoma rate of people who do not.[25]

Quinlan also notes that the PMRA and Health Canada work with other regulatory agencies outside of Canada, including North American Free Trade Agreement Technical Working Group. This is the same group allowing Dow AgroSciences to sue the Government of Canada, using Health Canada’s decisions as precedent for a case.[26]

Quinlan notes that Quebec’s provincial policy bans about 20 active ingredients, found in 200 products on the basis of suspected carcinogenicity. However, new products approved by the PMRA can be sold in Quebec. Quinlan proposes that Quebec adopt Ontario’s “white list” approach of simply noting which products are permitted, and banning all others.

In 2007, 20% of Newfoundland and Labrador households applied a chemical pesticide and 95% of households in the province had a lawn or garden.

A comparison of the bans in Ontario, Nova Socita, Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I. will be undertaken. James Quinlan makes the point that New Brunswick’s ban of 2,4-D was claimed to have been based on the product’s widespread use and not on its carcinogenicity or health effects. He believes this is inviting a lawsuit from Dow AgroSciences. If Dow wins, provincial bans on 2,4-D may be overturned and no additional provinces would be permitted to ban it.

The precautionary principle which is used by governments in banning pesticides:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment,       precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically”

Unfortunately, the Canadian public is not allowed to be represented in this case, even though their health is at stake. The Ethyl Corporation v. Canadian Government was another case which used chapter 11 of NAFTA and the precautionary principle was to be used. Canada wanted to ban a compound from gasoline, called MMT, which contained manganese, a neurotoxin when inhaled. MMT had been developed by Ethyl Corporation as an alternative to lead, after it was found to be an extremely toxic gasoline additive. The Corporation took the government to court and the government paid them $13 million and allowed MMT to be sold in Canada, as well as having to tell the public that MMT could not be proven to be dangerous.[27]

There are definite economic benefits to preventing illness. Pesticide poisonings cost Canadian taxpayers, training people in applying dangerous pesticides costs money, and people lose wages due to illness caused by directly applying pesticides or living in a neighbourhood where they are sprayed on the lawns. Quinlan recommends the province invest in organic lawn care businesses and research and development. They could also levy fines against violators of the Environmental Protection Act.


[1] World Health Organization/United Nations Environment Programme (WHO/UNEP). 1989. Public Health Impact of Pesticides Used in Agriculture. WHO/UNEP, Geneva,Switzerland.

[2] David Pimental, H. Acquay, M. Biltomen, P. Rice, M. Silva, J. Nelson, V. Lipner, S. Giordano, A. Horowitz, M. D’Amore. “Environmental and Economic Costs of Pesticide Use”. BioSciences. Vol. 42, No. 10 (November 1992).

[3] Gideon Forman. “Experience Shows Pesticide Ban id Good for the Economy”. From The Peterborough Examiner. Janaury 2009. Ecoyards. http://www.ecoyards.com/experience-shows-pesticide-ban-good-for-economy/

[4] Gdeon Forman. “Pesticide Ban Will be a Boon to the Economy”. Guelph Mercury. February 5, 2009

[5] David McKeown. “Interim Evaluation of Toronto’s Pesticide Bylaw”. February 2007. Toronto Public Health

[6] David Saltman. “Ban and Alternatives”. The Telegram. June 8, 2010.

[8] Anne Woodsworth. “Our Toxic Free Future: An action plan and model toxics use reduction law for Ontario”. Canadian Environmental Law Association 2008. http://s.cela.ca/files/uploads/609bToxic_FF_Model_Bill.pdf

[9] Gideon Forman. “Pesticide Ban Will be a Boon to the Economy”. Guelph Mercury. February 5, 2009.

[10] Doug Wood and Charles Osborne. “A Cost Comparison of Conventional (Chemical) Turf Management and Natural (Organic) Turf Management for School Athletic Fields”. Grassroots Environmental Education. March 2010.

[11] “A Chemical Reaction”.  Brett Plymale, Paul Tukey, Tim Rhys. (film)

[12]“Debunking Industry Opposition to a Province Wide Ban on Lawn and Garden Pesticides”.  2008. http://s.cela.ca/files/uploads/DebunkingMyths.pdf

[13] BC Golf News. “Ontario’s Pesticide Ban Being Monitored by BC”. http://www.bcgolfnews.com/2009/04/ontarios-pesticide-ban-being-monitored-by-bc

[14] Cohen, S., Svrjcek, A., Durborow, T,and Barnes, N.L. 1999. Water quality impacts by gold courses. J Environ Qual: 28(3)

[15] Meg Sears, C Robin Walker, Richard HC van der Jagt, Paul Claman. “Pesticide Assessment: protecting public health on the home turf”. Pediatrics and Child Health. April 2006, vol 11, no. 4

[16] “Notice of Arbitration, Dow AgrosSciences LLC v. Government of Canada”. http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/assets/pdfs/DowAgroSciencesLLC-2.pdf

[17] “A Chemical Reaction: A documentary film”.  Brett Plymale, Paul Tukey, Tim Rhys. 2009 PFZ Media

[18] Health Canada. Pest Management Regulatory Agency. “Revaluation Decision. 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid [2,4-D]”.  May 16, 2008

[19] Sears et al.

[20] Sears et al.

[21] Sears et al.

[22] Sears et al.

[23] Quinlan, 2010

[24] Sears et al.

[25] Gordon Shelter, March 31,  2010. Scientific American

[26] Quinlan, 2010

[27] Ibid

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