Weed Crisis Averted: CAPE Confirms Toxic Pesticides Not Needed

Prepared by Randall McQuaker, CAPE Pesticides Director

We, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), have released a new report which refutes the myth that municipalities need to use toxic pesticides in parks and green spaces, if they hope to avoid a dandelion apocalypse. That has been a fear expressed by some municipalities, faced with the restrictions imposed by bans on the use of toxic pesticides on lawns and gardens, particularly in Manitoba and Alberta.

Such worries have proven groundless.

CAPE’s report is based on interviews with parks managers in six municipalities across Canada – London, Guelph, St. Catharines and Toronto in Ontario, Richmond (BC) and Cape Breton Regional Municipality (Nova Scotia). All of the selected cities are operating under either municipal or provincial restrictions on the use of toxic pesticides for lawns and/or gardens.

The study found that publicly acceptable levels of weed control can be achieved at a reasonable cost without the need for toxic pest control products.  Weed program managers said they have adopted cultural practices to actively maintain turf health and to reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides.  These practices include mowing, aerating, overseeding, fertilizing and top-dressing.

Concerns over soaring costs for labour and allowable products have also turned out to be unfounded. Program budgets are stable, according to those interviewed for the report. Under cosmetic pesticide bans, cities are not spending more than they previously did on weed control. Instead, they are spending their available resources differently, with a focus on turf maintenance and mechanical control. Under alternative approaches, permitted pesticide products are sparingly used for specialized purposes such as weed control between sidewalks blocks and paving stones.

Parks managers acknowledged the presence of some weeds, and reported that there are some public complaints (particularly about dandelions in the spring). But, they said, complaints have decreased significantly where pesticide restrictions have been in effect for a number of years. People do not expect all green spaces in the community to be totally weed-free. A majority of residents have come to accept the groomed (but not manicured) appearance of public green spaces.

In practice, program managers are able to maintain sports fields, high-use parks and other priority locations in well-groomed condition without resorting to the more toxic pesticides. And they find residents to be supportive of weed control methods that avoid exposing people to toxic pesticides. Public complaints are described as “minimal.”

Publication of the report is another step in CAPE’s efforts to support, encourage and strengthen bans on the use of toxic pesticides on lawns and gardens across Canada.  In Manitoba, where a comprehensive pesticide ban was introduced in 2015, the Province has been considering revisions because of fears about costs, expressed by municipalities.  In Alberta, where there are neither municipal by-laws nor a provincial law banning the use of toxic pesticides on lawns and gardens, municipalities have resisted even adopting corporate policies that would prohibit the use of toxic pesticides on city-owned properties.  The study provides evidence, based in real-world experience, that anxieties about the cost, effectiveness and public acceptance of alternatives are unwarranted.

Indeed, in light of their success in implementing cultural practices to maintain healthy plants and turf, key informants in the study said they would not return to using the banned pesticides, even if they were allowed to do so. The toxic products are simply not needed, parks managers said

“Municipal Weed Control: Lessons from Ground Zero”  is available for download on CAPE’s web site.

Press Release available here.