The lab rats of Lanark County

7

Imagine a giant chemical experiment taking place in our county.  For which we taxpayers are paying $51,500 per year.

Where we are the subjects – and the scientific method is non-existent.

“Wow!”  you say.  “Will we get any mind-altering experiences from this?”  No.  But you will get lots of dead roadside vegetation.  And the future effects are unclear, but worrisome.

“Impossible!”  you exclaim.  Well, let’s review the evidence.

Having performed science experiments in school, we’re familiar with the scientific method.  Using this established procedure, I’ll outline how Lanark County have conducted their own “experiment”.

First, the question:  Why is wild parsnip a problem, and how should we respond? Well, wild parsnip can cause a nasty photosensitivity rash if, during its flowering phase, the plant’s sap gets on your skin.  The remedy? Avoid sunlight on your skin until you wash off the sap. Once you learn to identify this metre-tall plant with yellow flowers, it’s easily avoided.

Second: Conduct background research related to the question. It seems reason was abandoned, as Lanark County, instead of analyzing this plant’s habits, seized on chemical warfare as the means to obliterate it.  The fact that the spraying would miss whole swaths of wild parsnip, which would then likely reseed any bare spots, was…forgotten?  The fact that more prudent jurisdictions had found safer weed management solutions was overlooked.

So Lanark County council and staff decided to proceed with a “trial test” and, for some reason, selected the Health-Canada-approved pesticide ClearView as their weapon. Despite other countries having banned numerous pesticides approved by Health Canada, because these pesticides were found to be unsafe. Despite the link, established by the Ontario College of Family Physicians, of pesticides to ADHD, autism, and other cognitive and behavioural disorders in children. Despite Pesticide Action Network’s conclusion that “evidence linking pesticide exposure to increased risk of leukemia and brain tumours continues to mount, with increased ‘meta-analysis’ studies pointing to higher risks among children in rural agricultural areas”.  Despite the damage of these pesticides to our soils, to aquatic life when they reach our waterways via roadside ditches, and to food sources for our pollinators.  Despite the livelihoods of the many beekeepers and organic farmers in Lanark County placed at risk by these pesticides.  Despite the likelihood of increased resistance in the surviving wild parsnip plants to the herbicides used, leading to even more toxic chemicals.

Despite incomplete testing by Health Canada, who reviewed only the main ingredients of ClearView.  A percentage of ingredients in ClearView are undisclosed for proprietary reasons, and don’t require testing for toxicity. It’s not uncommon for such filler chemicals to be more toxic than the main ingredients, and in different ways.  Adjuvants mixed with ClearView, such as Gateway, facilitate dispersal of the herbicide, but also contain chemicals that haven’t been tested. Gateway, which contains petroleum distillates, is even more harmful to aquatic organisms than the two main ingredients of ClearView.

This is where we, the unwitting lab rats, come in.  The long-term effects of exposing a human population and huge swaths of our countryside to ClearView, were NOT considered.  Just so much collateral damage in this all-out effort to eradicate a garden escapee.

Third:  Formulate a hypothesis about the cause of this phenomenon.  The growth habits of wild parsnip and its preference for certain environments such as roadsides, and its ecological role, were not examined.  The prevalence and seriousness of skin reactions in people affected by wild parsnip on the roadsides in Lanark County was barely assessed. Public education to recognize wild parsnip and manage skin contact with it, was minimal.

Fourth: Design an experiment to test the hypothesis – one that is methodologically strong, and excludes factors that might invalidate the results.  This requires having at least a sample group and a control group.

Instead of this, Lanark County just chose ClearView.  Although this herbicide doesn’t specifically target wild parsnip, it is “highly active” against broadleaf plants.  So it indiscriminately kills most roadside plants, including our native plants. It seems the use of chemicals by other jurisdictions was all the justification needed by Lanark County. The “trial test” in June 2015 consisted of hiring a contractor to spray a road section between Rideau Ferry and Perth with ClearView.  That’s all.  No other weed control strategies were tried to compare effectiveness, no control sample was identified, and no record was kept of other variables to ensure consistency. Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry have sprayed their roadsides for 9 years, and plan to spray yet again.  Einstein’s maxim: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.  If spraying costs are $51,500/year for the next 9 years, nearly $500,000 of our tax money will be spent.  To achieve what?

Fifth:  Perform the experiment and collect the data. The roadsides were sprayed with ClearView.  Information is not available on how spraying was implemented, and whether all safety measures were followed to minimize human contact and environmental damage.  The subsequent mowing by the county of all the sprayed plants made any possible data collection impossible – by destroying whatever data there was.

Sixth:  Analyze and interpret the data, and formulate your conclusion. In their brief report, Lanark County staff stated that – no surprise – ClearView killed most of the roadside plants, including the wild parsnip.  Their conclusion?  Spray all the roadsides over the following two years.  Clearly, an invalid conclusion.

To date, this year’s wild parsnip management plan has been shrouded in secrecy, but it seems clear that Lanark County will spray significant stretches of roadside yet again in late spring. Therefore, fellow lab rats, we have to yell:  “STOP!  We’re risking our health and our environment – for nothing — with this inept experiment!”

Let’s insist that Lanark County stop roadside spraying, using chemicals with unknown effects! Let’s demand alternatives that preserve our health and our natural environment!  The Lanark County website http://www.lanarkcounty.ca/ provides information for contacting our councillors.  We owe it to ourselves, our families and our environment.