Last week I attended a screening of a documentary called A Chemical Reaction, co-sponsored by the Whitefish Bay (WI) Public Library and Healthy Communities Project. I had my doubts about how interesting a 1½ hour film on lawn chemicals would be, but the film focused heavily on the political process and less on the chemistry, making for a story that held attention right up to the credits. The film is peppered with witty quotes like “the best science money can buy” and a description of a Canadian legal principle as “you don’t have to wait until they’re dead to do something” adding to the entertainment value.
The film is narrated by Paul Tukey, lawn care professional turned activist who follows a movement started in the 1980’s in Hudson, Quebec. At that time, local dermatologist Dr June Irwin, noticed some troubling health problems among her patients. She did some analysis, fingered lawn pesticides and began a campaign. Over the course of a number of years and with the help of many forward thinking town politicians, Hudson became the first municipality to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides and unleashed a court battle that would take over a decade to resolve. It survived repeated court challenges and resulted in the Supreme Court establishment of a new legal principle known as the “Precautionary Principle,” paraphrased as “better safe than sorry.” This principle was credited with keeping the discussion at a human rights level rather than dropping into the scientific minutia that heavily favors those with the deepest pockets.
In 2006, the entire province of Quebec followed suit and in 2009, the province of Ontario joined in with an even more restrictive ban.
The film gave a summary of a far less promising US scenario. As a result of the Canadian legislation, all but 9 states now prohibit municipalities from setting laws that are more restrictive than state law, severely restricting the type of grass roots momentum that moved the issues forward in Canada. And there is no equivalent of the Precautionary Principle in the US
If you have been following the news lately, you will probably recall the recent publications linking ADHD and pesticides. This (among other health issues) was also cited in the film.
Beyond the discussion of pesticides, the questions raised about individuals and the political process are enormous. Can individuals truly influence legal outcomes, in a world where corporate money and influence figure so prominently? How does an individual stay true to their beliefs and real needs when society repeatedly tells you that you must have weed-free lawns and three cars in the garage? The discussion of lawn chemicals is legitimate on its own; the added questions only deepen the issues.
For more information take a look at: safelawns.org