A Standing Committee Of The House Of
Commons Recommends The Banning Of Pesticides Used For Cosmetic Purposes!
So, our big brother federal
government--the wonderful people who cannot deliver our mail on time,
cannot properly organize a realistic control of guns, and cannot provide
the armed forces with equipment that functions at least a majority of the
time-is being urged to take a stand "that all pesticides used for
cosmetic purposes be phased out."
Halifax is the first city in Canada to vote to ban such chemicals as
2,4-D--that vote in mid-July was 17 to 6 in favour of a four-year phase-in
of a ban. But, it is questionable-very questionable whether Halifax has
any jurisdiction to institute such a ban. Though they were the first city
to try to institute a ban (Toronto is likely not too far behind), they
were not the first municipality. Hudson, Quebec, just west of Montreal
(which I believe has a greater percentage of its population as members of
the local horticultural society than any other municipality in Canada, as
I remember researching some time ago) voted such a ban a number of years
ago, and an appeal of that decision is pending at the Supreme Court of
As one of the "old-boys" involved with the use of 2,4-D for the
past 42+ years, for decades I've heard all the arguments from activists'
and big brother politicians' (such as Charles Caccia who now looks the
part of the old fart environmentalist that he played--not well--as
Environment Minister a decade or more ago).
I was a good friend of Dr. R. Milton Carleton of Chicago, the Vaughan Seed
Company's research director from the late 20s until his retirement in
1967. In the early 40s, he was the co-developer of 2,4-D. It was being
formulated for wartime use, and he was brought in to work on the
"aesthetic" domestic uses.
Here's how it happened, as he wrote to me in a personal letter in
December, 1979: "I probably know more about the history and use of
this chemical than anyone alive. Dr. Franklin D. Jones, who discovered its
phytochemical properties and patented its use as a control for unwanted
plants, walked into my office right after WWII.
"He said he had a marvelous weed killer for drives. My answer was
'Frank, we have plenty of chemicals that will do that--even old crank case
oil will do the job. What we need is a better control for crabgrass!'
"'Unfortunately,' he replied, 'it doesn't do too good a job on
grasses; in fact they don't die unless you use so much that I suspect it's
the carrier that kills, not the 2,4-D.'
"This set me to thinking--if it doesn't kill crabgrass, maybe it
won't kill bluegrass, which proved to be true when I ran tests. That was
the birth of modern selective weed killers."
'Milt' as he was affectionately known, usually carried a flask around with
him that contained 2,4-D from which he would drink on request "just
to prove it was harmless." Anyone who knew the distinctive smell of
2,4-D knew that he was actually drinking the real stuff. It didn't seem to
harm him too much--he lived to the age of 87, and almost up to the end,
drove annually to his summer home off the US east coast (he moved to
Sarasota, Florida in 1980).
And, is it not interesting that in citing various studies that ostensibly
point to various negative responses and side affects of 2,4-D, the House
of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable
Development seems not to have listened to any of the well-researched
findings of unbiased scientists such as Bruce Ames of the University of
California. But they have paid a great deal of attention to two studies
that have long since been proven either inaccurate, untrue or both.
The two are the National Cancer Institute Kansas farm workers study on a
direct association between 2,4-D and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In this case
it was the author herself who issued the correction that withdrew the
As for the NCI's 2,4-D dog cancer study, researchers at Michigan State
University discovered that the raw data in the study did not support the
author's conclusions. That was followed by the NCI author's own refusal to
defend his study, and his request that it be withdrawn from the scientific
literature. It also prompted his resignation from the university!
I have followed Bruce Ames' work at the University of California for a
couple of decades. He actually developed the test for
carcinogenicity--reporting it in 1975. Then in 1987, Bruce delivered
another blow. He and two colleagues at Berkeley published a systematic
ranking of the relative dangers of carcinogens to which people are
commonly exposed. Suddenly some environmental controversies looked a
"It is important," Bruce Ames wrote in 1989, "not to divert
society's attention from the few really serious hazards, such as tobacco
or saturated fat (for heart disease), by the pursuit of hundreds of minor
or non-existent hazards." For Bruce Ames, it no longer made sense to
fret about one molecule of a carcinogen. Although he acknowledges that
some synthetic substances are dangerous, he now believes that man-made
pollutants are generally insignificant risks to the public. He bases this
not merely on his own results, but on statistics showing that the
proliferation of synthetic chemicals in the past 30 to 40 years has not
markedly increased the overall U.S. cancer rate.
One of Bruce's more recent statements that I noted had to do with the fact
that an average American citizen digests more natural chemicals in a week
of a diet of veggies than in a lifetime of exposure to pesticides.
Needless to say Bruce Ames has his detractors, but in view of the fact he
takes no money from the chemical industry, and his thoughts are a 180o
turnaround over the decades of his work, surely it would have paid our
Liberal Commons Committee to have examined his work in detail.
Finally, I don't send all of my criticism to the Commons Committee--I have
reserved at least ten percent of it for the industry itself for not being
prepared for ridiculous ideas such as the ban on "cosmetic
chemicals" (just which chemicals are included in this--no one seems
to know!). There are a number of steps that could have been taken
months--years--ago including particularly, exposing Canadians to Bruce
© Art C. Drysdale