It’s important to remember – and I need to remind myself every day – that though there are many bleak stories out there, there are also a lot of good ones. Today, I want to share a few of these and suggest, too, that if you’re looking for ways to bring about major reductions in toxics – ways to take BIG steps in that direction – these news items about reductions and bans in pesticide use provide great examples of initiatives that you can try at home – in your neighbourhood, city, province, state and even country.
PORTLAND, MAINE EXTERMINATES ITS PESTICIDES
Last month, Portland Maine became the largest U.S. city to ban chemical pesticides – on public and private lands. Congratulations, Portland! The Portland City Council unanimously passed one of the nation’s strongest ordinances prohibiting toxic chemical pesticides so that, starting this summer, Portland will practice city-wide organic land care in a huge step forward towards a healthy Maine.
The Portland Protectors – Prime movers of the ban
The Toxics Action Center Campaigns worked with the Portland Protectors for nearly two years to win safeguards against dangerous pesticides throughout the city, helping them to demonstrate broadly that toxic pesticides have been linked to asthma, learning disabilities, birth defects and cancer, and threaten our water and our pollinators. In the last two decades, Maine has seen a seven-fold increase in lawn-care pesticides. As Sylvia Broude, Executive Director of the Toxics Action Center Campaigns said, “With such dedicated activists working for a pesticide-free Maine, and your support, we know this victory won’t be our last. This is what bottom-up change looks like!” Visit them on Facebook.
Sylvia Broude – Toxics Action Centre Campaigns
AN INTERNATIONAL WAVE IS BUILDING
Let’s hope this will help to ignite a much larger wave across the U.S., joining up with ongoing campaigns across the world to radically reduce toxics and create safe environments. From Belgium to Japan, and so many points in between, people are taking back control of their environments and kicking pesticides out.
- In France, thousands of cities, including Paris, have banned pesticides.
- In the UK, since 2015, a wave of campaigns has begun to roll back pesticide use in cities, with early victories helping to build national momentum.
- Barcelona went glyphosate-free in 2015.
- Copenhagen went pesticide free in 2016.
- And in Canada, more than 170 cities, including all major cities except Calgary, have banned all cosmetic uses of pesticides. It may be that this ban, nearly 10 years old, is part of why chemical sensitivity prevalence seems lower than in the U.S..
- In New York City, a 2004 study showed a significant increase in the birth weights of infants born only a few years after a household ban on two insecticides that were frequently used indoors.1 This helps illustrate the possible health benefit of pesticide bans within a only few years of implementation, and this was not remotely a universal ban.
Oregon: Stores Stop Selling Bee-Killing Pesticides – Photo Credit: Oregon Sustainable Beekeepers
So we’re seeing the beginning of a big wave which, with luck, will build into a tsunami and that’s great because pesticides are so incredibly harmful in so many long-term ways. Pesticides are among the very most toxic substances that surround us, our children, our pets, our homes, as well as coat our food and go down our digestive tracts. From cancers to cognitive deficits to respiratory and reproductive disorders, these substances make us really sick. The references for this are countless, but you might like to see some of the material that ignited and supported the successful municipal ban-pesticide campaign in Ontario, including in Toronto, from the Ontario College of Family Physicians – you can download the pdfs here and here, for a summary of the 2012 findings see the sidebar.
Graphic Credit – Veterinarians without borders
CALIFORNIA STOPS INDISCRIMINATE PESTICIDE USE AND FORCES PUBLIC DEBATE ON FUTURE USE
So news out of California in mid-January that its top court had halted a state program allowing pesticide spraying at schools, organic farms and backyards across California because of inadequate public disclosure of the chemicals’ harms was extremely welcome. It also acted as a sharp shock to millions of Californians who had not been aware of the extent of the indiscriminate use of four super-toxic pesticides all over their state. Pesticides used in the program include these dangerous chemicals:
- Chlorpyrifos, known to cause brain damage in children and to threaten 97 percent of endangered wildlife;
- Neonicotinoid pesticides that are highly toxic to pollinators like bees and aquatic invertebrates like crustaceans and mollusks;
- The toxic fumigant methyl bromide, which depletes the protective ozone layer;
- The chemical warfare (!) agent chloropicrin, which causes genetic damage.
Graphic Credit – ResponsibleTechnology.org
Turns out the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s statewide “pest management” program required no site-specific analysis of risks before the application of 79 pesticides, including some known to cause cancer and birth defects and to be highly toxic to bees, butterflies, fish and birds.
Sustainable Pulse reported that “In a sweeping decision issued Monday, Judge Timothy M. Frawley ruled that the state agency failed to adequately review impacts or provide adequate notice of pesticide spraying. The agency also didn’t account for the full range of dangers caused by the program, including risks of contaminating water supplies and the cumulative danger of adding even more pesticides to the more than 150 million pounds of pesticides already being used in California each year.”
It also reported the words of Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity: “California has to now take reasonable, site-specific steps to curb the harms of pesticides to our water supplies and imperiled species like salmon. This ruling affirms that people should have a voice in which pesticides are used in their own neighborhoods.” And it reported the comment of Debbie Friedman, founder of MOMS Advocating Sustainability: “It’s especially troubling that the state gave itself a blank check to spray people’s yards, exposing children and pets to a range of pesticides that can cause serious long-term problems for children, including cancer, asthma and IQ loss.”
Graphic Credit – Sticker Syracuse Cultural Workers
The suit that stopped the spraying was brought by the City of Berkeley and eleven public-health, conservation and food-safety organizations: the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Working Group, California Environmental Health Initiative, MOMS Advocating Sustainability, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Pesticide Reform and Safe Alternatives for our Forest Environment. The plaintiffs are represented by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, and Hampton, along with ATA Law Group.
This process was a breakthrough, and it has created a template for other jurisdictions who are seeking to control government use of pesticides. So yes, try this at home too!
Need help starting your own campaign? Check out this U.K. organization’s starter kit:
- Start your own campaign to get your own village, town or city to go pesticide-free – email firstname.lastname@example.org to for a free campaign guide.
Header Image Credit – New Scientist