Environmental Science & Technology  [Printer-friendly version]
January 18, 2006


Canadian cities successfully by-pass industry's legal challenge to
laws that keep pesticides off lawns and gardens.

[Rachel's introduction: Several Canadian cities have passed
precautionary laws in recent years, banning the cosmetic use of
pesticides on privately-owned lawns. The pesticide industry
challenged those new laws in court, but the Supreme Court of Canada
just upheld the precautionary bans. In the U.S., 40 state
legislatures have caved in to the pesticide industry and made such
municipal laws illegal, but that could change.]

By Janet Pelley

During the past decade, some Canadian cities have addressed rising
concerns about the safety of pesticides by banning pesticide use for
aesthetic purposes on all lawns and gardens, including those owned by
homeowners and the government. Now that a Canadian Supreme Court
decision has virtually eliminated the threat of industry lawsuits
challenging these bans, the pesticide bylaws are predicted to spread
rapidly across the country.

Although copycat laws in the U.S. have been forestalled by industry-
sponsored legislation, a growing number of U.S. cities are finding
ways to cut pesticide use without resorting to bans, experts say.

On November 18, Canada's Supreme Court rejected an appeal of
Toronto's pesticide law by the pesticide industry, which charged that
it illegally duplicated existing federal and provincial legislation
regulating the use of pesticides. Toronto's ban, passed in 2003,
forbids the so-called cosmetic use of pesticides and lays out fines
for scofflaws.

The court action reinforces the idea that local governments have a
role to play in prescribing how pesticides can be used, says Theresa
McClenaghan, legal counsel to the Canadian Environmental Law
Association, an environmental group. The decision means that the
pesticide industry won't be able to fight the city bylaws in the
courts, she says.

More than 70 municipalities (including Vancouver, British Columbia;
Montreal, Quebec; and Halifax, Nova Scotia) have already passed bylaws
prohibiting the cosmetic use of pesticides, and many more cities are
poised to pass bans now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way,
says Gideon Forman, executive director of the Canadian Association of
Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). He adds that CAPE applauds the
action because pesticides pose unacceptable risks such as cancer and
endocrine disruption.

Ahead of their Canadian counterparts, U.S. cities won the right to
pass local ordinances restricting pesticide use as far back as the
1980s, says Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, an
environmental group. However, the widespread embrace of pesticide bans
was subsequently thwarted by industry-sponsored "preemption"
legislation, adopted in 40 states, forbidding localities to make laws
more stringent than those of the state, he says.

As a result, U.S. activists have focused on banning pesticide use on
land managed by public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and
county governments, Feldman says. At the same time, local governments
in California and New York have begun to test the strength of the
preemption laws, and Canadian-style citywide pesticide bans may soon
make a U.S. debut, he adds.

In response to growing challenges to preemption laws, the pesticide
industry is engaging more heavily in grassroots action to help
consumers speak up in favor of pesticide use, says Allen James,
president of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, a trade

Copyright 2006 American Chemical Society