Edmonton’s Sordid History of Chlorpyrifos Use to Control Mosquitos

Facts about Chlorpyrifos:  By Sheryl McCumsey, Coordinator for Pesticide Free Canada and Pesticide Free Edmonton

Chlorpyrifos is a potent and persistent neurotoxic pesticide that inhibits proper nerve function.

(It kills insects by paralysing the insects muscles used for breathing. It is linked to severe birth defects, brain damage, developmental delays and behavioral problems in humans, certain cancers and has caused deaths.)

It is 700 times more toxic than Malathion and breakdown products are 10-100 times more toxic than chlorpyrifos itself.

(According to the US Environmental Protection Agency and other studies)

In a time where we hear concerns about the loss of other species it should be noted that this specific pesticide is mentioned as jeopardizing the existence of 1,399 endangered species.

It is found in Arctic Ice dating back to 1972 and has been found in the air in testing done in Alberta.

(this speaks to persistence and ability of this pesticide to move long distances)

It should have been re-assessed by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency and is overdue for this by several decades.

(An entire page is dedicated to this concern by the federal auditor-as well the PMRA is currently being sued by five different groups in regards to concerns with improper assessment and illegal registration of other pesticides-there are many concerns with the holes in how pesticide products are assessed and regulated)

Legal action has also been taken in suing Dow Chemical for stating this pesticide is “safe” (Edmonton has stated this pesticide is safe in the past) and for withholding hundreds of poisoning reports.  Legal action is still ongoing in the US in regards to the lack of assessment in light of overwhelming evidence this pesticide should have been removed many years ago.  In fact a federal judge has ordered it to be removed immediately and still the government is allowing its use.

(Complete bans are noted in Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Sweden and Sri Lanka)

Concerns with Edmonton’s Pest Control Department:

August 2018 the City had six charges filed against them in the abuse of another pesticide.

In July 2014, Edmonton staff said to a group of us that they would be disposing of Dursban at the Swan Hills facility (one of the products with this pesticide in it) as they expected that the registration was to expire.  In March of the same year staff was purchasing this from Winnipeg.  Winnipeg’s entomologist stated that this was ineffective since this kills the predators to the mosquito and mosquito populations become resistant.  Edmonton continued to use Dursban and then Pyrate (which also contains chlorpyrifos) until the end of 2017.

Edmonton and Winnipeg were the only two municipalities using this in 2003 when the pesticide was re-registered at their request as said in a publication published by Health Canada.  There was no evaluation.  In both e-mails and on the city’s web-site from 2017 city staff implied “other control programs across Canada use chlorpyrifos for mosquito control.”  When we challenged city staff the response was we would have to ask other municipalities what they are doing.  Winnipeg and several other jurisdictions state they do not use this and the publication from Health Canada confirms it.

Late 2014 this pesticide was re-registered again, without an evaluation.

Edmonton staff has implied they spray this to control West Nile Virus to councilors(May 2015).  This is false and according to Alberta Health there has been one case in the Edmonton area over a ten year time period.  It is believed cases originated outside of Alberta and according to the Centre for Disease Control only 1% of those diagnosed develop serious complications.  To spray chlorpyrifos, “if” West Nile is a concern, this would be the worst possible response since this would impact the immune system of birds that carry it and increase the titre of the virus.

In the meeting in July of 2014 we were told we could not know the whereabouts of applications due to privacy concerns.  This is not true and so in accessing reports through the city clerk it was revealed that the city sprayed this repeatedly in one park and well inside city boundaries.  This is a restricted pesticide that is not available to the public and it is expected that applicators follow strict regulations in its use.  The label specifically states not to spray this in or around a park or residential areas.  Health Canada also says in their publication that it should be applied in outlying areas to limit potential for exposure.  It was clear that city staff did not adhere to these restrictions.  In following up we also found that seven other complaints in a two year time frame were made to Alberta Environment around concerns with mosquito spraying that included people being exposed in a parking lot.  In following up to see how Alberta Environment investigated abuses in which we obtained spray sheets to prove this infraction we see that all they did was call staff and ask how they informed the public which was published in a newspaper.  The ad states the city sprays pesticides from April to October.  This does not address the abuses which are still a concern as it appears that investigations are not conducted.

Spray sheets revealed errors in missing information on over 100 spray sheets in 2014 and even later when we requested an audit.  Errors included missing locations, reasons for spraying, wind direction etc. in 5 of the 10 spray summary sheets.

The city sprayed in other jurisdictions without permission like Sturgeon County which was a concern to councillors there.

Currently: The city still states on its web-site that it is a “myth” that bats and martins control mosquitoes.  Then they go onto to state that remains of mosquitoes are found in the scat of bats.  Why do staff feel it is necessary to make such a comment?  They also say it is a “myth” that mosquito spraying kills off predators like dragonflies.  There are local species of dragonflies that lay eggs in temporary bodies of water and even in grasses.  Why do staff feel a need to confuse the public on facts?  There is no monitoring of predator species to mosquitoes and so these claims are unfounded.

We have asked repeatedly for staff to tell us when, why and where they might spray this insecticide again.  The response was to say that “if there are adverse weather conditions”.  This vague response is consistent with the behavior we have seen over many years and does not instill confidence on decision making.

City staff have spent a great deal of money doing on-line survey’s (which do not have margins of error) and gathering information but with only a little over a week away from a city meeting we still do not have any idea around how the city will determine when, why and what they will spray.  We have asked for this information many many times.

There are many reasons to have concerns about how this department fails to even follow regulations let alone inform the public or even hear the public in what changes are desired.  We strongly advise against allowing them to operate without oversight from councillors and ask why we still do not see what their intention is going forward.  Further, we think that a deeper investigation is warranted.

It is becoming clearer that pesticides persist for a long time, that they do not magically go away, that a great deal of the time they are unnecessary and present a risk to citizens.  Current science illustrates that there is no safe exposure to chlorpyrifos and the city should remove it permanently from use. 

As the public’s outrage grows over the lack of proper assessment we strongly advise that the city take these concerns very seriously.    We do expect more lawsuits will emerge due to the evidence being revealed in the courts.