National Campaign Against Pesticides

Pesticide-Cancer Link Ignites Fierce Public Protest

The golden glory of summer and dandelions is upon us. But some people see red at this time of year, and embark upon their annual war against wild plants, however glorious. Armed with herbicides, they ride their CO2-puffing lawnmowers in pursuit of the perfect lawn. Thankfully, the number of lawn fanatics appears to be declining, most likely as a result of the increase in cancer incidence. These days, everybody knows at least half a dozen people and pets who have cancer, and the link between cancer and pesticides is becoming common knowledge.

The good news is that in spite of the increase in pesticide and herbicide use over the past 30 years, wild plants, spiders, mites, grubs and ‘weeds’ of every kind won’t give up. The forces of nature defeat our chemical onslaught every time — at a price, of course, and that’s the bad news. The price is mostly the health and lives of our children, followed closely by breast and prostate cancers in their parents. According to Canadian Cancer Statistics of 2006, since 1976 the age-adjusted incidence of cancer among men has increased 27.7% and among women 17.8%.

In spring 2004 a group of pre-teen children in Orangeville, Ont., made an appointment with Mayor Drew Brown. Ambushed would be a better word: they asked him for a bylaw banning cosmetic use of pesticides. They brought with them a petition signed by almost all the 300 children in their school (among them the mayor’s son) and another petition signed by an additional 460 adults. They called the newspapers, and on June 28th the Toronto Star reported their campaign.

Orangeville Town Council then discussed the possibility of a pesticide bylaw, but nothing much happened, so a year later the same group of kids had themselves placed on the Town Council meeting’s agenda and formally demanded again that a bylaw restricting pesticide use be enacted because “pesticides make you sicker than any weed could.”  Their presentations were rich in statistics and citations from the 2004 Ontario College of Family Physicians’ report on pesticides and children’s health. As reported in the Toronto Star on February 1, 2005, Mayor Brown said: “We don’t have enough kids involved in the political process. The more we have, the better off we’ll be … These kids have taken a stand and are willing to tell us what they think. I think that’s fantastic.”

The deputy mayor, Jim McGregor, on the other hand declared in council: “I am one of those Neanderthals who stands at the edge of his property with a club” to defend his right to use pesticides. A pointless bylaw was then proposed, which would limit pesticide and herbicide use in just July and August, when nobody uses them anyway, as that’s when grubs and bugs are fought instead. But this proposal at least looked “green.”

But then something big happened: one of the kids who started this process back in June 2004, Sarah Mediouni, now 14 years old, was diagnosed with ALL or Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia; at the Hospital for Sick Children she was told that among the known causes are garden pesticides and radiation. Her family does not use pesticides, but most of her neighbors spray. Fiercely determined, she helped to hand out 8,000 flyers starting in February this year (between chemotherapy sessions), throughout Orangeville inviting people to a series of alternative lawn care seminars at the local library (visit The flyer showed two skeletons in lab coats studying a flask spewing noxious fumes, and one skeleton observes: “Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

On April 10, Sarah doffed her wig and went before the Orangeville Town Council once again and informed them of her cancer diagnosis. She also told council members of the death of a schoolmate a few weeks earlier from Soft Tissue Sarcoma — a cancer known to be caused by pesticides (especially 2,4-D) is implicated. Sarah asked, “How many more kids have to get cancer before you take all this information seriously and ban pesticides in Orangeville? All my suffering with cancer and chemotherapy will have done a little good for other children too, if my illness helps to pass a ban.”

Then, just before the May 1 council meeting, David Suzuki came to Orangeville to promote his autobiography. Told about Sarah’s efforts to get pesticides banned, he had his picture taken with her for the local paper. The following day council was given the results of a professional poll, done at the request of a group of concerned residents. Oraclepoll Research Ltd. polled 500 residents. It turned out that only 37% of homeowners in the area used pesticides, and not consistently. Only 14% stated they were determined to use pesticides. The council voted to bring in that pointless bylaw which bans pesticide use in July and August, but councillors had become sufficiently uneasy to make a review of this bylaw mandatory within one year, “with a view to a total ban.” Sarah plans to be there again next year.


The resistance to poisoning our water, soil, and air began on February 4, 1991, when the Town Councillors in Hudson, Quebec, voted to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides. This battle with the pesticide companies, who asserted that nobody may refuse to use their products, made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2001, which decreed that every part of “No!” meant actually no, and that no is an option protected by law.

In the early 1990s, Jean Dominic, a teenager with cancer, noticed that almost all of his fellow patients undergoing chemotherapy in a Montreal hospital had lived downwind from golf courses since early childhood. His simple map demonstrating this fact resulted in a huge grassroots movement taken up by the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (CAP) which drew attention to the potential danger of increases in cancer rates when the provincial government planned to carpet-bomb Quebec with pesticides for West Nile Virus. The public’s objection was so strong that by 2003 a bylaw banning cosmetic uses of virtually all pesticides and herbicides became law for the whole province.

Rohini Peris of Quebec’s CAP reports that “starting in 2003, the use of pesticides was prohibited for use inside and outside all daycare centres, kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools and areas where there are activities with children under 14 years of age. Only biopesticides were allowed. In 2004, it was prohibited to sell fertilizer-pesticide mixtures such as ‘Weed and Feed’ and any mixed packages of herbicides and insecticides, etc. Also, it was prohibited for commercial users to apply these on lawns. In 2005, stores were prohibited to display pesticide products intended for domestic use.

On April 3, 2006, the final part of the Code was implemented. This resulted in an historical banning of certain pesticide active ingredients from all lawns across Quebec. They are also prohibited for sale. The banned pesticide active ingredients are: carbaryl, dicofol, malathion, benomyl, captan, chlorothalonil, iprodione, quintozene, thiophanate-methyl, 2,4-D (present as sodium salt, ester, acid, amine salt), chlorthal-dimethyl, MCPA (present as ester, amine salt, potassium or sodium salt), mecoprop (present as acid, amine salt, potassium or sodium salt). Golf courses are required to submit plans for pesticide reduction. For more details on the Code, visit:


When the City of Toronto decided to ban pesticides as well, all hell broke loose once more with pesticide manufacturers insisting their products are safe and that Health Canada would never allow anything harmful to go to market. Fortunately, Torontonians are as savvy about pesticides as they are about Health Canada and went to court to uphold their right to choose and refuse.

The pesticide lobby was hit hard in 2004 when the 9,000-member strong Ontario College of Family Physicians published a review of the world’s medical literature on the causative links and known associations between pesticides and asthma, neurological diseases, birth defects, cancers in general, and especially childhood leukemia (available online The sheer weight of the scientific evidence gathered by their research team is jaw-dropping. Best of all, the OCFP report was nothing less than an outright condemnation of Health Canada’s failure to protect Canadians’ health, instead working to protect businesses distributing these poisons.

On August 4, 2004, less than two months after the doctors’ report had appeared, Health Canada published a smooth and authoritative-sounding statement on their website assuring us that “pesticides are only registered if there is a wide enough margin of safety between what people are exposed to and the highest dose that causes no effects according to scientific research.” God only knows what and whose “science” Health Canada consulted, because whatever it is they rely on, it sure is not the same science the doctors consulted. Most importantly, the doctors and Health Canada disagree on a fundamental issue: the doctors say that the best use of pesticides and herbicides is not to use them at all.

A simple and likely explanation for this irreconcilable difference between the doctors and the regulatory agency appears to be exactly the same as that offered by the Standing Committee of European Doctors and the United Kingdom Working Group on the Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer – they noted in November 2005 with regard to their equally useless regulatory agencies: “The truth is that no lifestyle change can prevent breast cancer when we’re exposed to cancer-causing and cancer-promoting substances on a daily basis. Our bodies have become long-term storage centers for synthetic chemicals … regulations are based solely on information provided by the manufacturer, and data are kept secret because they are deemed ‘commercially sensitive.’” (The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives Monitor, volume 12, no. 6).

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) commissioned a series of professional polls to ascertain what Canadians actually know and think about pesticides. The results, from all major cities, confirm that roughly 80% of all Canadians favour restricting the use of pesticides. Even more conservative citizens in Alberta agree: there 71% believe pesticides threaten our environment and 75% favour their banning.

Last fall CAPE helped establish the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, which includes 11 public health organizations, medical and environmental associations. Every parent should have a copy of this excellent resource book, which teaches how to protect children from our increasingly toxic environment. It also provides data from other countries showing the decline in the incidence of cancer and other diseases when these toxins were banned.

Following the superb coverage of the toxic environment issue by CBC’s Wendy Mesley this past March, the mainstream media have now become one of our best resources, including the CBC’s webite link to “Marketplace.”

After years of silence on the issue of carcinogens, the Canadian Cancer Society woke up and acknowledged their existence. On June 12, 2002, the CCS’s chief executive officer, Julie White, wrote a letter to the Standing Committee on Health in Ottawa critiquing the new federal Pesticide Act (passed in April 2004, but still not promulgated). She pointed out that international statistics gathered by the World Health Organization show that “40% of the global burden of disease, attributable to environmental factors, is estimated to fall on children under the age of five years.” Citing also the findings in the Canadian Environmental Law Association’s report of 2000, she informed the committee that this new federal pesticide legislation was basically a sham, as far as protecting children is concerned, because it merely pays lip service to the internationally recognized Precautionary Principle, fails to provide for adequate labelling, and does not condemn the ornamental use of pesticides. On the CCS’s website this statement is found on their home page: “Since ornamental use of pesticides has no countervailing health benefit and has the potential to cause harm, we call for a ban on the use of pesticides on lawns and gardens. For more information on why we take this position call 1-888-939-3333.”

In Ottawa, MP Pat Martin (NDP) has tabled a bill to ban cosmetic pesticides across the country. And as of May, a national organization is up and running: Prevent Cancer Now. Anybody can join by merely signing on: or call Angela Rickman at 613-482-8124. Its declaration presented to the Canadian provincial and federal governments states: “We, the undersigned, do not accept that Canada’s epidemic rates of cancer are the price we must pay for modern living. We are no longer prepared to accept that cancer has become a recognized disease of childhood … over a third of Canadian women, and closer to half of all Canadian men will know the fear, pain, and anguish of cancer … Since the War on Cancer was declared in 1971, we have never engaged the real enemy — carcinogens.”

I think Sarah would like you to sign on. I did.


– Child Health and the Environment: A Primer, 2006, published by the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment, online: or or 416-306-2273

– T. Colborn et al. Our Stolen Future, Plume-Penguin, 1997

– Dr. S. Epstein, Cancer-Gate: How To Win The Losing Cancer War, Baywood, 2005

– H. Ferrie, Dispatches from the War Zone of Environmental Health, Kos Publishing, 2004 ($25) 519-927-1049 or

– Dr. J. Krop, Healing The Planet One Patient At A Time: A Primer in Environmental Medicine, Kos Publishing, 2nd edition, 2004 ($25)

n Dr. D. Rapp, Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call, Environmental Health Research Foundation, Buffalo, N.Y., call Kos publishing for copies ($30)

Non-toxic Alternatives to Pesticides:

• For organic landscaping in Toronto check out Aesthetic Earthworks on-line at, or call (416) 428-9995 or (416) 925-4932, or e-mail

• The Environmental Factor is a Pickering-based organic landscaper. Find them on-line at, call (905) 426-5007.

• Check out Grassroots Environmental products for all-natural gardening solutions. Two locations: 408 Bloor Street West and 372 Danforth Avenue.

• Contact the Organic Landscape Alliance for more information on local organic landscapers, at 1-866-824-7685, via e-mail, or visit

• The City of Toronto’s web page for info on the pesticide bylaw and links to alternatives

• Toronto Environmental Alliance web page on pesticides and the bylaw is at

• Green Golf Courses: The next time you hit the links, check if your course is eco-friendly. The open spaces of golf courses are ideal for building and maintaining wildlife habitats, yet they are routinely soaked with chemicals, posing a hazard to humans and wildlife. Now Audubon International, a world-leading environmental organization, has established the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses. The group works with courses around the world to reduce the impact of chemicals and water consumption on local wildlife, and recognizes environmentally responsible courses as Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. In Ontario, such courses include Glen Abbey in Toronto, Cranberry Resourt Golf Course in Collingwood, and Peel Village Golf Club in Brampton. For a complete list of certified courses, see Or go to the website at, a project of The Conservation Council of Ontario.

Helke Ferrie is a medical science writer with a master's degree in physical anthropology. Her specialty lies in investigative research into ethical issues in medicine and the politics of health. She started her investigative journalism career in the mid-1990s, looking at issues of medicine and environment. She has been a regular contributor to Vitality Magazine ever since. Helke has also authored several books on various subjects including: "Ending Denial: The Lyme Disease Epidemic", "What Part of No! Don't They Understand: Rescuing Food and Medicine from Government Abuse", and "The Earth's Gift to Medicine". Read her article: When governments abandon the public interest — look out for your own health Find her book -What Part of No! Don't They Understand Helke has also been a regular contributor for the Vitality Magazine. Links to few of her articles: The Tyranny of Government Protection Success Story - How I Recovered from Lyme Disease IN THE NEWS: Fluoride Dangers; Roundup Lawsuits; Lyme Disease Epidemic Helke Ferrie now lives a retired life and can be reached at

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