The Pesticide Connection

By Adriane Schroeder

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Consumer alert? Buyers beware? People may think about these warnings when they're shopping for a used car or a new computer, but what about when they are tending to their lawns or taking pleasure in their gardens?

Pesticides include an array of over-the-counter chemicals from bug spray to weed killers. Some of these products may be familiar labels on the shelves of the garden shed or garage; products consumers have depended on for years to provide short-term solutions to common gardening problems. 

But this short-term chemical solution has the potential to make people sick. Growing scientific evidence links pesticide exposure to both adult and childhood cancers. That list includes adult and childhood leukemia, childhood brain cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, neuroblastoma, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and some lung cancers.

For some, the right to use pesticides is an expression of control and independence. But for many others, eliminating pesticide use on their home lawns and gardens is an easy and rewarding step towards reducing their cancer risk. 

Young children are most vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure because of their developing immune systems, proximity to lawns and, for very young children, the habit of putting their hands in their mouths. People with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease and asthma can be more vulnerable to the effects of pesticide use. Also, animal companions can be adversely affected if pesticides are used on home lawns and gardens.

For these reasons, the Canadian Cancer Society (, along with many other organizations and concerned citizens, is advocating for the passage of municipal bylaws restricting the cosmetic use of pesticides. When pesticides are used to enhance the appearance of lawns and gardens, it is referred to as the cosmetic or non-essential use of pesticides.

Key to any successful regulation of pesticide use is education. People need to know about alternatives and engage in changing expectations and habits about what is considered a beautiful or healthy garden or lawn.

Back to those common gardening problems: often what looks like a pest or disease is actually a plant struggling with the quality of soil, exposure to light or too much/too little moisture. Check the environmental conditions that a particular plant needs to thrive. Try to address these underlying factors before considering chemical measures. 


How to cultivate a pesticide free community:

* Engage family, friends and neighbours in conversations about why everyone needs to stop using pesticide formulations.

* Let people who use pesticides know there are many alternatives to pesticide use.

* Dispose of pesticides responsibly. They can be taken to local recycling centres in their original containers.

* Tenants of condominiums can inquire through their strata councils to find out if the grounds are pesticide free. 

* Examine gardening habits: Don't use weed and feed products (combination herbicide/fertilizer) on the lawn or other chemical formulations to maintain the lawn or garden. If so, there are non-toxic alternative products and practises to help homeowners go pesticide free.

More and more, people are making the connection between cancer and the environment. Canadian Cancer Society research suggests that 50 per cent of cancers are preventable.

Adriane Schroeder is the Canadian Cancer Society's Community Action Co-ordinator for Vancouver Island. Log onto to learn more.


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