he Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)1
formed twelve years ago by a group of physicians who had become deeply
concerned by the new illnesses being diagnosed in their young
patients: allergies, cancers and symptoms. It is an affiliate of the
Canadian Medical Association. Membership is open to all members of the
public who have an interest in the effects on human health of human
activity in the environment. We work closely with Canadian
Environmental Law Association, with whom we share space in Toronto,
with Sierra Club of Canada and with many other health organizations.
We meet annually in conjunction with the Canadian College of Family
Protecting children from harm from the environment is a first
priority of CAPE
CAPE works to protect the environment in order to protect human
health. Its goals to carry out its mission are:
- to better understand how environmental degradation affects human
- to educate our members, other physicians, other health
professionals, the public and policy makers about the issues
- to be a resource on how environmental degradation affects human
- to take actions that will contribute to the protection and
promotion of human health by addressing issues of environmental
- to work with other organizations, nationally and
internationally, that share our concerns and values
Its top priority is children's health and to effectively
improve the environment for children. CAPE is working with local
organizations in municipalities across Canada to advocate for by-laws
banning the use of pesticides on both municipal lands and residential
properties. It is a founding partner in Canadian Partnership for
Children's Health and Environment. While CAPE remains deeply concerned
about the use of pesticides in agriculture we have determined to
advocate for the elimination of pesticides where most children are
living-in our towns and cities.
CAPE, with financial assistance from several sponsors and members
of the public, produced a ten minute video which features several
physicians and researchers explaining the effects of pesticides
(mainly for homes and gardens) upon children's health.
Opinion polls were conducted in Peterborough, Edmonton and Ottawa.
All of them indicate that a majority of residents support the
reduction or elimination of pesticides for cosmetic use. The second
step is to work with local residents and to communicate with members
of municipal councils that a by-law phasing out the use of pesticides
ought to be a top priority. Opposition from lawn care companies is an
obstacle to be overcome along with public concerns that elimination of
cosmetic pesticides could devalue their homes.
health should be considered
a state of physical, mental, social
and ecological well-being
The experiences of municipalities who have already passed by-laws
phasing out pesticides are encouraging and can be used to support
arguments in favour of eliminating the use of these chemicals.
The Town of Hudson in western Quebec was the first municipality to
pass a pesticide bylaw. A pesticide company, Spraytech, took them all
the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where the Municipality's
authority under its governing law was upheld. Since then the City of
Toronto, in the face of great opposition, has passed a bylaw phasing
out pesticide use. You can learn more about its implementation by
visiting the City of Toronto website and that of Toronto Environmental
Association. (See websites at the end of this article.)
In Nova Scotia, an amendment to the Municipal Government Act (s.
533) gave the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) specific authority
to pass a bylaw phasing out pesticides for cosmetic uses on lawns and
gardens. The bylaw and progress reports on its phasing in and
enforcement can be found on HRM's website. Groups advocating for a
by-law can learn much from the Halifax experience.
At least two New Brunswick municipalities have taken the plunge:
Shediac and Caraquet. They have relied on the general authority given
to municipalities to pass bylaws to protect and promote the health of
their residents under the Municipalities Act. Smaller municipalities
may be less vulnerable to challenges from large companies because the
market for pesticides is small.
In the fall of 2004, the Ontario College of Family Physicians
published a comprehensive report, in essence a summary of the
published scientific studies which link pesticides with diseases and
illnesses in children2. The executive summary illustrates the reasons
for urgent action to protect children:
Many pesticides persist in the environment, are often transferred
long distances from their original area of application, are
routinely detected in human tissue, and are transferred across the
placenta and via breast milk (1, 19). Relative to adults, children
eat more in proportion to their body weight, resulting in more
concentrated exposures. Intakes by children of the four primary
pesticides (chlorpyrifos, malathion, diazinon, and atrazine) appear
to come primarily from the ingestion of solid food (2). Another
common exposure source is indoor and outdoor home pesticide
applications, where children may be exposed by playing on floors,
treated lawns and play areas, or by handling treated pets (8).
Agricultural uses of pesticides may expose children inadvertently
from spray drift or farm work (31).
Children present a number of unique characteristics with regard to
risks from exposure to pesticides and other environmental
pollutants. The most vulnerable time is during fetal development
when the brain is known to be subject to environmental influences at
all phases of development, with critical windows at different points
(6). Since in the female, ova are formed in the fetal stage, and
environmental contaminants have been found in follicular fluid, the
next generation of children born may be affected by their
grandmother's exposures (6). The newborn child has low levels of the
enzyme paraoxanase-1, which detoxifies organophosphate pesticides.
Environmental contaminants may pose a greater risk to children than
adults for another reason: children have a longer life expectancy in
which to develop diseases with long latency periods. For example, if
a 70-year-old adult and a 5-year-old child are exposed to a
carcinogen with a 40-year latency period, the child has a much
higher lifetime risk of developing adverse health consequences (20).
In a recent letter3 to the Environmental Protection Agency in the
United States, CAPE stated:
Research evidence clearly shows that children are particularly
vulnerable to, and can suffer major adverse health effects from,
pesticide exposure, including brain cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia,
non-hodgkin's lymphoma, genotoxic effects, skin diseases,
neurological diseases, and reproductive effects. To ignore over a
decade of such evidence and deliberately endorse the exposure of
infants and children to pesticides constitutes a gross violation of
a child's right to a healthy environment, as well as the basic
tenets of research ethics.
The Supreme Court of Canada in Hudson v. Spraytech endorsed
the precautionary principle. While the accumulation of more data by
additional studies continues, the time for urgent action is upon us.