The Lab Rats of Lanark County

Written by  Theresa Peluso Wednesday, 12 April 2017 12:21
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Imagine a giant chemical experiment taking place in our county.  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, using the scientific method we learned in school to outline how Lanark County have conducted their own "experiment".
First, the question:  Why is wild parsnip a problem, and how should we respond?  Wild parsnip can cause a nasty rash if its sap gets on your skin.  The remedy? Avoid sunlight on your skin until you wash off the sap. Once you can identify this metre-tall plant with yellow flowers, it's easily avoided.  
Second: Conduct background research related to the question. Instead of analyzing this plant's habits, Lanark County seized on chemical warfare.  That spraying would miss whole swaths of wild parsnip, which would likely reseed any bare spots, was…forgotten?  That safer weed management solutions were being used by other jurisdictions, was overlooked.
Lanark County decided to conduct a "trial test", using the Health-Canada-approved pesticide ClearView. Despite the Ontario College of Family Physicians' linking 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 risk to the livelihoods of the many beekeepers and organic farmers.  Despite the likelihood of increased chemical resistance in the surviving plants, leading to even more toxic chemicals.

Despite incomplete testing by Health Canada.  A percentage of ingredients in ClearView are undisclosed for proprietary reasons, and don't require testing for toxicity; for example, Gateway, an adjuvant mixed with ClearView. The petroleum distillates in Gateway are 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.

Third:  Formulate a hypothesis about the problem's cause.  The growth habits of wild parsnip, its ecological role, and its preference for certain environments, were not examined.  The skin reactions in people affected by wild parsnip were barely assessed. Public education to recognize wild parsnip 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, Lanark County just chose ClearView.  This herbicide doesn't specifically target wild parsnip, but is "highly active" against broadleaf plants, including native plants.  It seems the use of chemicals by other jurisdictions was sufficient justification. During Lanark County's "trial test" in June 2015, a contractor sprayed a road section with ClearView.  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.  After having sprayed their roadsides for 9 years, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry 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”.  

Fifth:  Perform the experiment and collect the data. Information is not available on spraying procedures, including safety measures.  The mowing of all the sprayed plants afterwards, made any possible data collection impossible – by destroying whatever data there was.

Sixth:  Analyze and interpret the data, and formulate your conclusion. Lanark County's brief report stated that – no surprise – ClearView killed most of the roadside plants, including the wild parsnip.  The conclusion – clearly invalid – was to spray all the roadsides over the following two years.  

To date, this year's wild parsnip management plan, although shrouded in secrecy, suggests that Lanark County will spray significant stretches of roadside yet again. Therefore, fellow lab rats, we must yell:  "STOP!  We're risking our health and our environment – for nothing!"

Let's insist on an end to roadside spraying and 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.

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