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Canada: Sweet-Scented Pesticide 'Sugarcoats a Toxic Pill'

Critics Decry Industry's 'Perverse' Threat to Children

by Andrew DuffyOttawa Citizen
August 20th, 2000

An association that represents Ontario lawn-care companies is selling cherry and bubble-gum flavoured scents to mask the smell of toxic pesticides.

Environmentalists -- and even some landscapers -- are worried the use of Masker-Aid Odour Concentrate could increase the pesticide exposure of children.

"I think it is a rather perverse use," said Barbara Karthein, a landscape artist from Port Perry, Ont. "There are certain chemicals in this world that I think we have to treat very, very carefully and use properly, if at all," she said.

The Professional Lawn Care Association began marketing the masking scent to the province's lawn-care companies in January after testing a series of potential fragrances, including pine and mint.

Yvette Frappier, an official with the Guelph-based association, said adding a fragrance to pesticide or insecticide sprays is no different than adding lemon scent to bleach, which is also potentially dangerous to children.

"All it is is a scent, a fragrance, and you add it to your water so that when you add an insecticide or weed killer, it covers the smell. That's it," she said. The association has sold about 400 litres of the product to Ontario lawn-care companies. About one ounce of Masker-Aid is added to every 900 litres of water used to spread a pesticide.

Julia Langer, director of the World Wildlife Fund's toxicology program, accused the lawn-care association of "trying to sugarcoat a toxic pill."

"Pesticides give off a pretty recognizable smell, and people naturally act adversely to it," she said. "This is an attempt to cover up what amounts to a warning signal."

Ms. Frappier said cherry and bubblegum fragrances were used not to make them attractive to children, but because they were the most successful at covering smells. All customers of lawn-care companies, she added, are given a choice as to whether or not the masking fragrance is used.

American studies have linked significant pesticide exposure to higher cancer rates among farmers and gardeners and to cognitive difficulty among children. In Canada, the agency that regulates pesticides in Canada recently announced it wants the makers of Dursban, one of the most popular insecticides in the country, to stop production because of suspected health risks.

Ms. Langer, who has lobbied for new government controls on pesticides in Canada, said the lawn-care association's introduction of the masking fragrance comes at a time when pesticides are under intense scrutiny by local governments and by a public increasingly sensitive to the health issues raised by their use.

She suggested the introduction of the pesticide perfume may be an attempt by the lawn-care industry to remain under the political radar screen.

"I think it really is an attempt to mask the issue and keep themselves out of the limelight as much as possible," Ms. Langer said.

Earlier this year, a Commons committee reviewing Canada's pesticide law called for a phased-in ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns and gardens.

Meanwhile, a growing number of municipalities -- including Ottawa, Halifax and Calgary -- have declared that they'll only use pesticides as a last resort on city property.

A handful of other towns, including Hudson and Chelsea in Quebec and Dundas, Ont., have introduced bylaws to severely restrict pesticide use on private property.

Two lawn-care companies, Chemlawn and SprayTech, have challenged the legality of Hudson's pesticide ban, which was introduced in 1991.

The case is expected to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year. The central question in the case will be whether a municipality can impose a bylaw on a substance already regulated by both federal and provincial laws.

Canadians buy an estimated $1 billion in pesticides each year to kill unwanted insects, weeds and fungi. They have about 6,000 products from which to choose, each with a differing level of toxicity.

The chemical industry maintains the products, many of which have been on the market for decades, have already proven their value and safety.

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