Pesticide Use - Incomplete Knowledge No Excuse

UPdate June 2000

The following is a paraphrase of the presentation of Dawna Ring before the HRM Committee of the Whole, as she did not speak from prepared notes.

      My name is Dawna Ring and I am a majority member of your Pesticide By-law Committee, which recommended a phased-in ban of pesticides. The majority position was supported by everyone on the Pesticide By-law Committee, except three lawn-care companies and a pest control company. It was supported by one lawn- care company. 

      I assumed that you appointed me to this Committee because of the expertise I could bring to it. I have represented Janet Conners and other secondarily infected spouses and children before the Blood Inquiry and in obtaining compensation for them from the governments. I am also Class Action Counsel to those with Hepatitis C that has recently obtained a settlement of $1.5 billion from the governments. The blood system was regulated by the federal governments and directed by the provincial governments' Committee.

      This issue is not about weeds. There are organic methods to eliminate weeds. This issue is not about being anti-business. There will always be people who do not wish to care for their lawns and want to hire companies to do that work for them. This is solely about some lawn care companies not wanting to change.

      The pesticide industry has suggested to you that you must have scientific proof before you act. At the Blood Inquiry, this was a central issue. I have cross-examined many doctors and heard the testimony of scientists and medical officers in relation to this issue. Scientific proof means a 97% certainty that there is a link between two things. Smoking is the best example as to how long it can take science to achieve that level of certainty. It took the scientific community 50 years to link smoking to lung cancer. There are likely still people within the tobacco industry that say there is not a link between the two.

      This Council has now taken steps to eliminate smoking in public places. Wouldn't it have been wonderful, if your forefathers, forty-nine years ago, took steps to eliminate smoking in public places as the scientific knowledge was emerging.

      In the blood system, which was regulated by the federal government and directed by the provincial governments, Medical Directors claimed that what they needed for scientific proof was the Kosh Principle. That principle would have required taking the blood from the vein of somebody they knew had HIV and transfusing it into a healthy person and waiting to see if the healthy person developed HIV . We all know what happened as a result of the blood system not acting sooner. We have over 1,500 people infected with HIV and over 20,000 people infected with Hepatitis C. 
 Justice Krever specifically addressed this issue of scientific certainty and when our society must act. At page 295 of his report he said: "Where there is reasonable evidence of an impending threat to public health, it is inappropriate to require proof of causation beyond a reasonable doubt before taking steps to avert the threat."   As an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health in May 1984 put it: "The incomplete state of our knowledge must not serve as an excuse for failure to take prudent action. Public health has never clung to the principle that complete knowledge about a potential health hazard is a prerequisite for action. Quite the contrary, the historical record shows that public health's finest hours often occurred when vigorous preventive action preceded the crossing of every scientific "t" and the dotting of every epidemiological "i.""

      The pesticide companies have also told you that you should not act because there are other chemicals which make people sick and therefore you should not take any action to limit their exposure to pesticides. This issue was also address by Justice Krever. At page 1049, he says: "If harm can occur, it should be assumed that it will occur. If there are no measures that will entirely prevent the harm, measures that may only partially prevent transmission should be taken."

      I would strongly encourage Council to heed the advice of the Invocation you say at the beginning of each meeting: "Guide our minds and hearts so that we will work for the good of our community and help all of your people."

      As Council, you need to protect all of the people within our community, not just those who are currently sick, but those who will be harmed by the repeated use of pesticides. 

       Your Invocation continues: "Give us today the strengths and wisdom to carry out our duties in the most caring and respectful ways. Teach us to be generous in our outlook, courageous in the face of difficulty and wise in our decisions."

      I encourage you to have the courage to make the wise decision and ban pesticides.