By Mike Lushington
In last week's column, I initiated discussion on the recent Ontario
College of Physicians report on the dangers of chemical uses in the home
and around private properties. I indicated that this group was, in effect,
issuing a serious warning to users of such products because of what they
considered to be overwhelming evidence of their hazards to health,
particularly to children.
Predictably, the response from the producers of these products was
swift. Within a day of the release, I heard several opinion pieces on the
radio as well as an interview with one of the spokesmen for the industry.
It came as no surprise that he was defending these products. However, I
found his comments sad as well as predictable.
I found them sad because one of his most important lines of defence was
that these products are tested and regulated by Health Canada and, to
paraphrase his remarks, "Everyone knows that Health Canada would not
approve the use of a product if there were the slightest possibility that
it was hazardous to the public."
Would that that were true! Unfortunately, I have a long memory and I
remember the same arguments being put forth in defence of Dioxins and
Fenitrothion (sp?), of Malathion and other agricultural pesticides in the
1970's and 1980's. I assume that the same "rigorous" testing applied to
the original licensing of DDT in the 1960's. (All of this is not to
mention the similar processes that led to the uses of Thalidomide, again,
as memory serves, in the 1960's) In each of these cases, and, tragically,
in a great many others over the years, Health Canada and its predecessors
have always come down firmly on the side of the producer and not on the
side of the potential consumer or the innocent bystander. It is only when
serious health problems begin to emerge that it takes action to remove the
product from the market.
Health Canada and the producers both insist that these products are
"safe when used as directed." I go out and buy some noxious poison to kill
dandelions on my lawn. I read the directions and take all of the
appropriate care in applying it. Then I take a few little signs and stick
them into my lawn, supposedly to inform everyone that I have used this
product and that due care should be exercised by everyone else in the
area. Unfortunately my neighbour's dog doesn't read very well. He comes
over to investigate something that is of interest to him, rolls around for
awhile and then returns home where he is patted, tousled, and played with
by the children in that house. Or the children themselves, who may not
read very well either, or who may not take the time to read, pass by and
pick up the residue from my carefully applied treatment. Or a heavy,
unpredicted rain comes along and flushes a good deal of it into the water
table where it runs into my neighbour's well. Or ... Or ... Or...!
The Ontario physicians did not issue this report lightly or carelessly. Together the members of the committee reviewed some 12 000 reports dealing with the hazardous uses of domestic chemicals. They based their findings and their cautions on what they considered to be the most important, the most detailed and well documented 250 of them. For anyone, from Health Canada or from the chemical industry itself, to dismiss this report as being "one-sided" or "unfair" or "biased" is acting in a way that can only be described as criminally irresponsible. The fact that their response was so easily predictable only illustrates the old agage that those who ignore the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.