Archive for the ‘Pesticides’ Category

London’s Olympic Shame

As most of the world would know by now, the XLVIII Olympic Games are being hosted in London, England in July 2012.  Indeed, the Games begin in only 100 days.  While I normally enjoy watching coverage of many events, I will be watching with a more sceptical eye this year.  Indeed, if I could be there in person, I would certainly want to participate in some protests.

This comes rather suddenly to me as I learned today that Dow Chemical Company (Dow Chemical) has been selected as a major sponsor of the games, touted to be the most sustainable games to date.  Indeed, BP has been selected as the Games’ sustainability sponsor.  Each of these seems not a little outrageous to me, given the disaster at the Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) plant at Bhopal, India and BP’s drilling disaster Gulf of Mexico at the Deepwater Horizon platform.

The metal for the 2012 Olympic medals is being provided by Rio Tinto, a giant British mining company.  I was previously unaware of this company and the issues surrounding it, but a quick Google search reveals a flurry of activity ranging from air pollution to human rights abuse to gold and uranium mining, and much more.

In response to these sponsorships, and the dark shadow they cast on the “sustainable” Games, three groups have joined forces to create Greenwash Gold 2012.  The London Mining Network, the Bhopal Medical Appeal, and the UK Tar Sands Network are all deeply concerned about the message sent by the London 2012 Games regarding the green or “sustainable” nature of Dow, BP, and Rio Tinto.  So what’s the big deal?  I will provide brief summaries below, but you can check out Greenwash Gold 2012 for more information and to cast your vote for the Greenwash Gold Medal.  They also have produced short animations depicting (an interpretation of) the atrocities committed by each company.

Dow Chemical

Dow Chemical Taints the 2012 Olympics in London

With its sponsorship, Dow Chemical taints the 2012 Olympics in London. Click the image to go and read the article at The Ecologist, and sign the petition to stop their Olympic partnership.

In 1984, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) operated a pesticide manufacturing facility in Bhopal, India, producing a chemical called carbaryl (Sevin™).  Production of carbaryl pesticide involved the intermediary chemical methyl isocyanate (MIC).  A significant factor in locating the facility in India was that regulation in the United States were deemed “too restrictive.”

An extremely toxic chemical, MIC (CH3NCO) is slightly soluble in, but reacts strongly with, water.  Indeed, with excess water, MIC has a half-life of approximately nine minutes, and releases approximately 1.36 kJ of heat energy per gram of MIC (that’s a lot).(1)  When this heat is not moved quickly away, the MIC can quickly come to a boil.  And when the storage vessel is in poor repair, it can explode.  This is essentially what happened at Bhopal.  Thousands were killed, and they were the lucky ones.  Tens- to hundreds-of-thousands of survivors suffer from painful physical conditions, including various cancers, skin conditions, respiratory problems, and  more.(2)

Despite claims to the contrary, UCC did little to help the victims of the disaster.  In 2001, Dow Chemical merged with UCC, but refused to accept any responsibility for the Bhopal disaster.  This in spite of the fact that, while UCC remains a “separate business to Dow”, Dow “owns 100% of its shares, elects its board, and UCC’s current CEO is even a senior Dow official.”(3)

And now Dow is happily trying to “green its image” by participating as a major sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Can you say Greenwash?


After the events of April – October 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, I think I would be hard-pressed to find someone unaware of at least one of BP’s environmental atrocities.  It is laughable indeed to have them as the Sustainability Sponsor of the Games.

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the largest environmental disaster in United States history.  In order to deal with the financial burden this caused, BP liquidated much of its Canadian holdings.  However, it is still very active in the controversial development of the Alberta Oil Sands.  BP and other resource companies don’t seem to understand that, while there is a lot of oil tied up in those deposits, we need it to last.  And we need time to develop technologies and methods of understanding and remediating these developments.

Adding insult to injury, BP is actively exploring for economical oil reserves in the Arctic.  While spills are equally destructive no matter their location, the Gulf of Mexico is far more accessible to those working to clean it up.  A spill in the Arctic would likely be a disaster beyond our comprehension.  Imagine polar bears wandering around, coated black from sticky oil, licking and consuming this oil in an effort to stay clean.  No doubt any attempt to clean up an Arctic spill will be hampered both by simple geography (climate conditions, terrain, etc) and by wildlife.

So of course they would take the opportunity to sponsor the Olympics as a “sustainability” sponsor in an effort to clean up their severely tarnished name.  Don’t let them get away with it!

Rio Tinto

For Rio Tinto I am going to have to defer to the massive knowledge of the Internet.  You can start by reading at Greenwash Gold 2012.


A Sea of Yellow?

Common Dandelion

The common dandelion.

Last August (2010) I wrote about the removal of the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) from the Alberta Weed Control Act as a noxious weed.  Well, it appears this is still quite a contentious issue (indeed, I doubt that it ever will cease to be), generating a lot of commentary across the board.  To call it a debate may be misguided – it appears to me as more of a fight as people become more and more impassioned.  Former Calgary City Councillor Ric McIver appeared on CBC Radio’s The Current this morning in an attempt to argue, apparently, for the use of toxic and harmful pesticides to control dandelion populations.  Have a listen to the piece and see what you think.  It is not only Ric McIver appearing, but also Simon Wilkins, coordinator of integrated pest management for the City of Calgary.  In my (humble) opinion, Mr Wilkins provides the more sensible, logical, and rational argument.

Just to be clear, the removal of dandelions from the Alberta Weed Control Act does not mean that municipalities cannot elevate the plant to “noxious” status themselves (via bylaws) and thereby control them.  While this is not likely to happen, all it really means is that the City cannot issue citations for dandelion “infestations” unless they reach 15 cm in height or greater.  Further, in my previous article I mentioned that the City of Calgary failed to pass a (cosmetic) pesticide ban in December 2009.  This means that there is also nothing keeping residents from spraying poison all over their lawns in an effort to control a simple, harmless little plant.  (Note that this poison may be transferred to pets and children when they play in the grass.  In the case of dogs and cats, particularly, which often practice self-grooming, this can have decidedly unpleasant consequences.)

Non-Chemical ControlPesticide-Free Zone

It should be noted that there are a variety of dandelion control methods that do not involve the spraying of poison.

Of course, there is always the basic method of pulling them up as they appear.  This can be good exercise, but is tiring, time-consuming, and often frustrating.  A better and more effective way is to keep a healthy lawn.  This can be done, at least in part, by following these suggestions from the City of Calgary’s Healthy Yards Lawn Care Guide:

  • mow your lawn to 7.6 cm (three inches) in length
    • keep mower blades sharp to produce clean cuts and promote better grass health
    • the three-inch length provides shade to roots, protecting them from heat and helping to prevent weed seeds from germinating
    • too-short grass is susceptible to weed and pest problems, takes longer to recover from drought periods, has shallower root systems, and does not hold moisture as well (thereby costing more time and money)
  • limiting water to one inch per week (get a rain gauge or use an inverted frisbee as a guide)
    • keep track of rain received over the week
    • avoid watering in the evening
    • avoid fixed watering schedules to help keep grass hardier in times of drought
    • manual watering with a hand-held hose and shut-off nozzle is the most water-efficient method
    • avoid misting sprinklers or those that spray high into the air, such as the oscillating variety
  • aerating your lawn
    • improves rooting
    • increases migration of water, nutrients, and oxygen through soil
    • encourages activity of micro-organisms in soil
    • aerate in at least two different directions to ensure good coverage
    • leave soil plugs or cores on the lawn to be re-integrated
  • dethatch and power-rake your lawn
    • removing thatch allows air, water, and nutrients to migrate into the soil easier
    • if you are not experienced in power dethatching, hire a professional
    • give some extra water in the days after dethatching
  • topdressing
    • a great way to level the lawn, or build it up to the desired level
    • fills holes or low spots
    • encourages growth and may add nutrients (depending on type of topdressing used)
    • allow grass to grow through by not watering for a couple days after topdressing
    • don’t topdress if rain is in the forecast, as it makes a big mess and does not rub in well

There are a variety of other methods that can be found by simply using Google.  Weeds thrive by out-competing the non-native grasses we have been brainwashed into using.  Keeping a healthy, luscious lawn can help to turn the tides in the other direction.

Happy gardening!

Alberta Weed Control Act

Common Dandelion

The common dandelion.

Back in June the Alberta Government passed an updated Weed Control Act.  This is only now coming to light in Calgary, thanks to some media exposure.  The Calgary Sun has an article, and CBC Radio has been talking about it.  The point everyone is focusing on is that the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)  has been removed from the noxious weed list.  This means that it will no longer be the target of bylaw officers throughout Alberta.

I agree: dandelions are annoying.  However they are far from noxious.  Still, Calgary’s bylaw boss, Bill Bruce, has issued a warning: “Dandelions are off the list as of the end of this summer. It means there’s very little we can do about them.”

The interesting (though not surprising) thing is that Calgary City Council failed to pass a pesticide ban in December 2009.  This means that Calgarians remain free to poison their lawns, children, pets, and wildlife with herbicides.

Ward 6 Alderman Joe Connelly appears to take a rather complacent and simplictic view of pesticides and their regulation.  He seems to subscribe to the idea that the federal and provincial government(s) always have the peoples’ best interest at heart, no matter the issue.  According to Mr. Connelly, pesticide regulation is outside the jurisdiction of municipal government – it is best left to the scientists at Health Canada and our beloved elected officials.  I believe that Mr. Connelly is simply running from a problem he doesn’t want to understand.

Putting pesticide regulation outside municipal jurisdiction is simply irresponsible.  Indeed, it was a Canadian municipality, Hudson, Québec, that took the lead against cosmetic pesticide use in 1991.  The town went to court with two manufacturers, and won, effectively setting the stage for future municipal challenges.

There is absolutely no reason for municipalities should avoid pesticide regulation.  It is impractical to rely on federal and/or provincial bureaucrats to decide on policies affecting citizens in towns and cities.  Only councillors and the mayor, who work for and represent the citizens, can effectively make such decisions.  I believe such regulation is the responsibility of municipal governments everywhere.