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Advisory Council on the Status of Women

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2006-05-01: Support for a Ban on Cosmetic Pesticides

Letter to the Mayor of Charlottetown
Submitted by Jane Ledwell, ACSW Researcher/Policy Analyst
May 1, 2006

May 1, 2006

Dear Mayor and Councillors of the City of Charlottetown:

The Prince Edward Island Advisory Council on the Status of Women is a government-appointed advisory agency with a legislated mandate to advise governments on issue that affect the status of women in Prince Edward Island. It is in this spirit that we submit a letter supporting the Environmental Health Co-operative and all those Charlottetown citizens who are petitioning for a ban on the use of cosmetic pesticides in Charlottetown.

The use of pesticides in Charlottetown neighbourhoods is an issue for women because scientific research has repeatedly shown that women, especially pregnant women, and young children are especially vulnerable to health effects from exposure to pesticides. A ban on cosmetic pesticides in Charlottetown, building on successful models from other Canadian municipalities, would be a positive step for encouraging the general and reproductive health of women and their families.

In support of our arguments, we offer some local and international analysis of leading research into the effect of pesticides on pregnant women, women in general, and children.

Pregnant Women

Even the Canadian Pest Management Regulatory Agency warns pregnant women against contact with pesticides. Their website states: "Generally, pregnant women should avoid contact with pesticides. If this is not possible, pregnant women should follow the additional safety precaution of not re-entering the treated area for 24 hours after the pesticide has been applied." If the "treated area" in question is a green space beside a sidewalk you frequently use -- or, worse still, a lot adjacent to or just a breeze away from your home, this instruction poses serious challenges.

If a woman knows she is pregnant, she may be able to take steps to limit her exposure to pesticides in her neighbourhood. However, exposure to pesticides can have particularly dire consequences in the earliest stages of a pregnancy -- even prior to a woman's knowledge of pregnancy -- because it can affect the healthy development of a fetus' nervous system.

The American Pregnancy Association sums up research from the United States with alarming facts:
-- The California Birth Defects Monitoring Program observed that pregnant women exposed to household gardening pesticides "had a 1.5% greater risk for oral clefts, neural tube defects, heart defects, and limb defects."
-- Various studies show increased rates of certain cancers in children whose mothers are exposed to pesticides around the home, including studies reported in Environmental Health Perspectives Journal (EHP) Volume 110, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and Journal of Epidemiology Volume 12. EHP finds that "the risk is increased during the first three months of pregnancy and when professional pest control services are used."

The Parliament of Canada's Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development reviewed the data and reported the following in 2000 in "Pesticides: Making the Right Choice for the Protection of Health and the Environment": "Research suggests that exposure to chemical pollutants acting as hormone disruptors can affect the development of the fetus," and that pollutants pass directly from the mother to the fetus through the placenta.

Women in General

The same Parliament of Canada report weighed the evidence and identified women in general as particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure, noting, "Women, whose bodies contain greater proportions of fatty tissue, are more likely to accumulate persistent organic pollutants (POPs)." Some researchers have associated this tendency for pesticides to accumulate with higher rates of breast cancer in women exposed to these chemicals.

It is also worth noting that women are more likely than men to suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, an illness that can cause acute and serious distress when the sufferer is exposed to lawn and garden pesticides.


The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development expressed particular concern about children's exposure to pesticides. Their concern was based on pesticide testing regimens that focus on effects on normal-sized adults, not on children, and based on children's greater risks of dangerous exposure. Their report acknowledged that children "eat more food, drink more water and breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults and can thus absorb larger quantities of the pollutants present in the environment" and that "the younger they are, the more limited their ability to metabolize and eliminate residual toxic substances." Children also tend to spend time outdoors than do adults, and to spend that time playing and breathing close to the grass and to the ground.


The evidence discussed here is selected from reports that reviewed large amounts of information from a variety of sources, and we consider them credible and compelling. The risk is sufficient, and the vulnerability of women and children is sufficient, to warrant the use of the precautionary principle and to ban the use of cosmetic pestic

While I write on behalf of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women today, I also write as a concerned citizen of Charlottetown who is a pregnant woman. I am hoping to give birth to a healthy child. In the future, I am hoping to have other healthy children and not experience again the heartbreak of recurrent miscarriages. It is my great hope that my child will be safe playing anywhere in our neighbourhood, or in any neighbourhood in Charlottetown -- as safe as she or he should be playing in her parents' organic garden and yard. For these reasons, I ask Council to eliminate one unnecessary potential health risk for me and my family and for all Charlottetown's current and future citizens.

These personal experiences and hopes underline that Charlottetown Council's decision will have real and direct effects on individual citizens. On behalf of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women, I urge you to positively affect the lives and health of individual women and children by banning cosmetic pesticides.

Jane Ledwell
Researcher/Policy Analyst

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