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Audit shows provincial pesticide ban often ignored

Pesticide Free Nova Scotia believes more inspections are needed

by Robert Devet

Cosmetic pesticides are banned in Nova Scotia, but some stores are ignoring the rules. Photo Sergiu Bacioiu
Cosmetic pesticides are banned in Nova Scotia, but some stores are ignoring the rules. Photo Sergiu Bacioiu

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - In April 2011 the Nova Scotia government banned most cosmetic pesticides, the kind people use to keep lawns free of dandelions and bugs off flowers and ornamental shrubs.

Some of the pesticides, such as Round-Up, can still be legally purchased, but only under special circumstances, for instance, when poison ivy or fire ants are taking over your garden. And those pesticides are only sold in a limited number of certified stores. Staff in these certified stores must undergo special training, and the pesticides, much like cigarettes, can not be freely accessable to shoppers.

The ban was put in place because the Nova Scotia government considered that exposure to pesticides can make you sick. Many studies indicate that there may well be direct links between pesticide use and various types of cancer.

But it appears that imposing restrictions on these pesticides alone is not enough.

An independent audit conducted by Pest Free Nova Scotia this summer found pesticides freely available in nine out of fourteen non-certified stores.

And in five out of eight certified stores the pesticides were accessible to the public rather than locked away, in contravention of the regulations.

That makes fourteen out of twenty-one retailers who were found to be in violation of the provincial ban.

The previous year the volunteers for Pesticide Free Nova Scotia, who pose as customers, found eight stores not following the law. In 2011, the year the legislation was enacted, the auditors found only one infraction.

Chris Benjamin coordinated this year's volunteer audit. Benjamin is convinced that things are getting worse, mostly because the government has drastically reduced its policing effort.

"In the first year the government spent $300,000 on compliance and enforcement," says Benjamin. "That money was cut the second year, and it hasn't come back."

"If you don't actually have any pro-active enforcement and it is complaintdriven while you also stop promoting the fact that there is a hotline, then it seems like a good indication that things are sliding," says Benjamin.

The audit also found that too often customers looking to store sales people for advise on pesticide-free and legal ways to deal with pests were out of luck. The necessary expertise is simply not there in many cases.

Although not common, auditors also reported instances where staff provided misinformation about pesticides use, or even advised the Pesticide Free Nova Scotia mystery shoppers on how to circumvent the law.

"The Department of Environment advises consumers on more than one occasion to ask staff at local garden centres about pesticides," says Benjamin. "So people expect to find expertise on what they are allowed to do, but they are not getting it."

First and foremost Benjamin would like to see the Department of Environment reinstate the audit of both certified and non-certified stores.

"You really need to put some money into it. It doesn't need to be a ton of money, the first year they did a good job," says Benjamin, "putting their staff out there with their badges."

Better education of sales people, no matter whether they work at certified or a non-certified stores, is also on Benjamin's wishlist.

In an email to the Halifax Media Co-op dated December 13th the Department of Environment did not respond to our questions on the need for increased enforcement, but stated that inspectors are now looking into the situations the pesticide coalition described in its report.

"The province has asked us that when we become aware of any violations we let them know right away," says Benjamin. "But we're on the fence about that. We want to work with the department, but we wonder why they are relying on us to tip them off."


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

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Topics: Environment
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