Halifax Bylaw is Working - You Bet~!

Thank you to the Coalition for a Healthy Ottawa for this article.

Is Halifax's pesticide bylaw working?  You bet!

Halifax's landscape industry has grown since the pesticide bylaw. Read more . . . 

By Helen Jones  MSc, EdD
Past Member, Pesticide Bylaw Advisory Committee
Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM)
Board Member, Real Alternatives to Toxins in the  Environment (RATE)

May 20, 2004

In response to today's article by James Cowan, "Toronto considers weaker pesticide law: Lawn-care workers descend on city hall," one wonders why anyone would ask an industry spokesperson, whose coalition is funded by lawn care companies with a vested interest in  profits, for an assessment of how the Halifax bylaw is working? Good reporting should have guided Mr. Cowan to more impartial and authoritative sources.

Lorraine Van Haastrecht claims both that "retail sales tripled" in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), but also that the city "lacks the resources to monitor citizens'  use" of pesticides. Which is it? And how would she know if, as the OAG has pointed out, Canada and  the Slovak Republics are the only countries that don't keep track of pesticide sales?

So what's the real story? In 2003 much to their credit, one of the larger HRM garden centres,  Lakeland Plant World, decided to stop carrying  pesticides this season. These decisions wouldn't be made if garden pesticide sales were booming. Bags of  pesticides seem to be just sitting unsold in a number  of retail outlets. All of Loblaws spring 2003 promotional flyers for Halifax featured pesticide-free products on both their front and back covers with high praise for the pesticide bylaw and  the wishes of the community. Congratulations,  Loblaws, for being neighbourly and a good corporate citizen.

The biggest challenge to the bottom line for law-abiding lawncare businesses in Halifax may in  fact be that a few of the wealthiest companies seem to have trouble following bylaw regulations or even telling the truth, sometimes failing to suggest  non-toxic alternatives, and sometimes misleading  homeowners claiming that chemical pesticides like Carbaryl (remember Bhopal?) are "organic."  Organic landscape accreditation, a much needed next step, would put a quick stop to this.* Other companies [franchises], in contrast, have gone with organic maintenance programs early and over 70% of  their customers in the Halifax area apparently had  switched over to them even before the bylaw came into full effect. It also appears to be a good climate for  new small business starts, since more lawn care  revenue stays in the community instead of leaving the area for the head offices of chemical companies elsewhere.

Industry frequently badmouths Halifax's pesticide bylaw in the rest of Canada while whispering sweet nothings to HRM Council when in Nova Scotia. The reality is that the bylaw is alive and well in spite  of this. The permit process has been refined and improved each year, and public education - so essential to any adjustment period - will be more detailed and complete in the coming season. The pesticide bylaw in Halifax (Bylaw P-800) is working and continues to have very broad support from the public.

One good measure of this is that people who are exquisitely sensitive to pesticide exposures have noticed a real improvement in their health due to the widespread reduction in landscape pesticide use in their communities. They are now able to travel around their neighbourhoods more freelywithout getting sick. There is also an increase in the number of homeowners who have replaced some or all of their lawn with interesting shrubs and landscape plantings that don't need the care and watering that lawns require, so residents can sit back and relax with no  mowing. Birdwatchers have noted a general increase in songbird numbers due possibly to increased food and  improved clutch success.

The Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention, C2P2,  has singled out Halifax's pesticide bylaw as one of the 10 most effective (i.e., lowest in cost, with the  greatest progress in moving the community towards natural alternatives and away from risky chemical pesticides) causing C2P2 to affirm that  "Pesticide Bylaws Work!”

Last season saw some problems with lawn chinch bugs in selective neighbourhoods, particularly areas of new housing developments with thin soils, and accompanying this a corresponding increase occurred in requests for permits to use pesticides. [Note from Coalition for a Healthy Calgary - chinch bugs are not a problem in Calgary]. These accounted for only about 1-3% of the properties in  the municipality, so this affected a relatively minor geographical area. Permits are not granted by the municipality for herbicide use at all.

Most of the requests came from only 3 lawn care companies who may have been less well prepared to maintain their properties using the sustainable methods that other lawn care companies were using.  The following website may be useful to residents and possibly to other communities in addressing some of the gaps in the preparation of landscape care providers: www.versicolor.ca/lawns.

 The Halifax Regional Municipality has continued to refine the already good performance of the bylaw.  Recent improvements have been made by Council this spring, some of which came about as a result of last season's experience.
    •     Steps are being taken to require greater soil depth (and the addition  of some municipal compost) in new housing construction areas.
    •     Residents will receive better instruction in a variety of effective non-toxic steps they can follow to solve lawn pest problems before applying for a permit to apply pesticides (which in many cases may prove to be unnecessary).
    •     Pro-active education for neighbourhoods that had problems last year will take place for the first time this year;  residents will be contacted with important  preventive information early in the season,  preparing them BEFORE any pest problems occur.
    •     A website is being created  by HRM to facilitate the bylaw function with respect to the  inspection/permitting/education process. It  will also improve the ability of the municipality to compile data on a variety of  factors within and between growing seasons, including the experience of individual  properties over time, as well as trends within neighbourhoods.
    •     Any bylaw violation fines will be handled more smoothly by a new ticketing process similar to traffic tickets (SOTS). Violation reporting is complaint  driven, which helps to keep costs very low.
    •     Halifax Regional Council  unanimously reaffirmed on April 6, 2004, the importance of the inspection/permitting  process being handled by a competent  independent 3rd party (i.e., not industry).  Council has also resisted industry requests to build Integrated Pest Management (IPM)  into the bylaw. This is a system which relies on pesticides and is backed by lawn care  industry groups such as Landscape Ontario and Landscape Nova Scotia Horticultural Trades  Association (LNSHTA), as well as U.S. pesticide interests.

Halifax's pesticide bylaw performance just keeps getting better and better, thanks to leadership provided by HRM's Mayor, Council  and staff. So take the next industry attack you read with a grain of salt. It may come from someone paid to protect profits rather than the truth or the  public. The real unvarnished truth is that our municipality deserves a wheelbarrow load of credit  for the excellent job they are doing and the community is solidly behind them.

 Helen Jones MSc, EdD
 Past Member, Pesticide Bylaw Advisory Committee
 Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM)
 Board Member, Real Alternatives to Toxins in the  Environment (RATE)

* For more information on  the benefits of organic landscape standards and  accreditation programs as well as communities using  them see:

SOUL List 2: Landscape Pest  Control Products (West Coast, Canada)
 SOUL (Society of Organic Urban Land Care Professionals)

 National Standard CAN/CGSB-32.310 - Organic  Agriculture
 Canadian General Standards Board. Download the CGSB  Organic Standard. www.pwgsc.gc.ca/cgsb/032_310/standard-e.html

 Organic Landscape Alliance (OLA) - Canada (see their factsheets)

 The Long Island Neighborhood Network's 4 Steps to a  Toxic Free Lawn

 Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI)
 OMRI Generic Materials List, and Brand Name Products  List (U.S.)

 The 5th Annual Organic Turf Trade Show A Huge Success

 NOFA-Northeast Organic Farming Assoc.(US) has accredited 45 org. landscapers since 2002.
 Standards for Organic Land Care:
 Practices for Design and Maintenance of Ecological  Landscapes

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