Weed Killers Benign

Commentary, Environment, Rolf Penner

Banning the use of lawn chemicals that control weeds in the city of Brandon is an idea that councillors should flatly reject. Despite the assertions of chemophobes and peddlers of herbicide panic, such bans do nothing to improve public health or the environment. The scientific evidence overwhelmingly confirms their safety.

Claims against herbicides are legion, but they hold about as much water as a hula-hoop. All of the hard science done in the last 50 years, at the cost of billions of dollars, has time and again shown that these weed controllers are benign to the public at large, their pets, their children and the overall environment. They eliminate the specific target that they are designed to control, and that is it.

Take, for example, the herbicide 2,4-D, the oldest and most widely used chemical found in lawn care products today. The toxicology database contains more than 4,000 peer-reviewed, published studies of this compound alone. One done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fed massive daily amounts of 2,4-D to dogs for two years. None of the animals developed cancer or any other disease.

The number of truckloads of grass clippings a person would have to eat to match the dosage given to these dogs – where nothing happened – is a physical impossibility. Numerous lifetime mouse and rat feeding trials, as well as multi-generational reproductive studies, have demonstrated similar results. Researchers at the University of Guelph have studied barefoot, barelegged humans who actively walked or sat on turf grass on the day of spraying 2,4-D. They were unable to find any detectable level of exposure.

On February 21, 2005, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) released the results of its latest round of testing on 2,4-D which gave special attention to children and adults in contact with treated lawns and golf courses. It showed that “the use of 2,4-D and its end-use products to treat lawns and turf does not entail an unacceptable risk of harm to human health or the environment.”

Studies can be found which show negative effects to 2,4-D exposure, but on serious inspection they quickly fall apart. One that was recently released by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association supposedly linked the chemical to bladder cancer in terriers. That breed was chosen because it has shown a genetic predisposition for cancer that makes it 20 times more likely to contract the disease. On top of this deliberate bias, the researchers chose terriers that already had cancer. They based their findings on written questionnaires filled out by owners of these dogs, in which they were asked if they remembered whether or not their dogs might have been on lawns that might have been sprayed with 2,4-D. This sort of study may barely be considered legitimate research; it certainly is not science.

Manitoba’s summers are short. If people would rather spend time outside with their kids, playing baseball or walking their dogs rather than pulling weeds out of their lawns, they should be free to do so. They are not harming themselves, anyone else or the ecosystem if they make this choice, and have no reason to feel guilty if they do.

City councillors may be tempted to jump on the politically correct anti-herbicide bandwagon. But this would be a disservice to the community. Caving in to the arbitrary demands of eco-theologians who substitute personal prejudices and junk science for rigorous, rational, evidence-based conclusions would set a regrettable precedent for Brandon. Councillors should say, “No.” Not to lawn-care products, but to ecological fanatics.