Despite a controversial new cosmetic-pesticide ban hanging in the air, Manitoba used more chemicals to kill weeds along rural roads, in parks and school grounds and on fairways than it did two years ago.
Last summer, approximately 202,000 litres of concentrated pesticides were sprayed on publicly used land, according to a database created by the Winnipeg Free Press, which was given access to roughly 280 spray reports submitted to Manitoba Conservation. That’s up slightly from 2011.
While the database doesn’t include farms or private homes, it does cover permit-holders such as Manitoba Hydro, municipalities, golf courses, and school and health districts.
An additional 190,000 kilograms of weed and insect killer in solid form were also used. That’s up 66 per cent from 2011, and included relatively harmless products such as wood preservative and natural larviciding products used to kill mosquitoes.
This spring, the province passed its version of a cosmetic-pesticide ban that covers homeowners’ lawns as well as daycare, school and hospital grounds. The ban begins in 2015, but there will be a grace period.
Manitoba hasn’t yet released the list of banned products, but it will likely echo Ontario’s, which includes common active ingredients such as 2,4-D, glyphosate and mecoprop and brand names such as Par III, Tordon and Vantage as well as in Roundup.
The looming ban has some worried that people will find alternative methods to get their hands on pesticides, essentially pushing the products underground where they won’t be regulated.
“Everyone knows a farmer around here and has the opportunity (to source pesticides,” said one Brandon homeowner, who pulled a jar of clear liquid that he said was Roundup from his garage.
“The difference is: Does everyone know the proper way to use the chemicals? That’s what I think is more scary. Will people quit using this stuff, I doubt it. It will just be used the wrong way.”
Nearly three-quarters of all the liquid pesticides used by permit-holders last summer are ones likely to be banned next year for cosmetic use. But, it’s unlikely the province will see a huge drop in what pesticide permit-holders spray.
Most of the major users are golf courses, which are exempt from the ban. Or, they are weed-control districts, tasked with controlling noxious weeds such as knapweed, purple loosestrife and leafy spurge along rural roads and ditches to keep those from wafting into farmers’ fields, crowding out crops and damaging yields. Most of the work of weed-control districts will continue despite the cosmetic-spray ban.
Still, rural weed-control experts are worried about the fine print, and are waiting for more details from the province.
“There’s concern over whether it will impact our ability to address new invasive species,” said Kent Shewfelt, president of the Manitoba Weed Supervisors Association.
Shewfelt wonders what will happen if, for example, a particularly virulent patch of noxious weeds is spotted on a baseball field. Will the weed-control district have the ability to use the traditional chemicals to destroy the patch, even though it’s in an area where the cosmetic ban applies?
Most towns and RMs also haven’t begun to consider how they’ll deal with the cosmetic ban, which will likely force them to stop spraying for weeds on baseball diamonds, in parks and perhaps along ditches leading into town.
Shewfelt, who also runs the Louise-Roblin Weed Control District, says green products such as Fiesta can be used to replace big brand-name herbicides such as Premium 3-Way. But, Premium 3-Way costs less than $50 per hectare while Fiesta costs more $1,300 and often needs to be reapplied a few times. That could have a serious impact on municipal budgets, especially smaller, rural ones.
A spokesperson for the department said the legislation is expected to take effect in January 2015 — although exactly what it will look like is still being discussed.
“As the government conducts consultations and develops regulations, the final list of banned products will emerge,” he said. “Again, the final list is being developed. The proposed restriction list will be focused on weed control products but will not include insect control operations.”
There will be a grace period to give businesses time to adapt to the changes.
“We will work with the key stakeholders and other government departments to ensure the provisions of the legislation are understood and how compliance can be ensured,” the spokesman said. “This will provide time for homeowners, retailers, landscaping and lawn care professionals, and others affected to switch to low-risk products. Through a combination of public education and retailers altering their supply, we expect that the public will understand and comply with the regulations.”
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