To Spray or Not to Spray

The debate around herbicide use on City land has certainly been a lively one. This issue has come around a few times on Council in the last 10 years or so, but we haven’t made much progress. Now, there is a whole host of other cities, like Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto, that have successfully banned the use of herbicides on public lands for non-noxious weeds.

Proponents of this ban argue that the potential impacts of cosmetic herbicide use are not outweighed by the benefits that they might bring us in aesthetics. And to be clear, we are largely talking about aesthetics when we look at cosmetic herbicides - noxious weeds and invasive species can still be managed with herbicides, though our Integrated Pest Management plan requires that other measures taken first to deal with those species before resorting to herbicides.

Detractors argue that the science isn’t quite settled around the impacts of herbicides on health, and this may be true (of course, it depends a good deal on who you ask). But we are cautious with lots of things without fully knowing their impacts. The side effects of e-cigarettes, for example, are not fully known, but most people were in favour of Council’s decision to only allow their use in public in designated smoking areas.

We negotiate trade-offs all of the time. Most of us drive our cars, because we feel that the convenience and efficiency outweighs the potential risk for injury. The question this ban really demands that we answer is: how much risk  are we willing to accept in order to keep our grass spaces pristine? Based on yesterday’s outcome, Council clearly feels that the risk is too great.

Some people have raised concerns about the possibility of injuries in sports field due to the increased presence of weeds. Of course, the intent is not to let weeds run rampant - the City will be trying to manage them with mowing and other tools. We also received a letter from Dr. Chris Sikora, the Lead Medical Officer for Alberta Health Services, explaining that though there is a small risk of injuries due to slipping on play surfaces, it is no larger than the risk presented by spraying herbicides on children’s play spaces.

The ban included the following exemptions:

a.) Golf Courses

b.) Bowling Greens

c.) Sports fields such as staffed athletic facilities, Premier Sports Fields and District Parks

d.) Cemetery Burial Plots

e.) Areas/parks involving high-profile and international events (including but not limited to, City Hall, Churchill Square, Louise McKinney Park and Hawrelak Park)

I did not support both exemptions C and E, for Sports Fields and high profile spaces, as I feel that these two types of sites are within the spirit of the ban to protect children and other vulnerable populations from potential herbicide impacts. However, all of the exemptions were passed by Council.

Overall, the ban on herbicides for broadleaf weeds in City spaces will be of benefit to the citizens of Edmonton. There will be a period of transition, where we may have to adjust our expectations for the aesthetics of green spaces. But many other cities have managed this transition successfully, and remained both tourist friendly and pleasing to the eye. I’m confident that our City will be able to adapt to this new policy, and be better for it.