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Pesticide Cocktail


If Canadians want a clean environment, they will have to take action themselves. Governments are not going to do it. The Back to the Farm Research Foundation in Davidson, Saskatchewan (of which I am president) has started a program of testing community water supplies for pesticides.

If Canadians want a clean environment, they will have to take action themselves. Governments are not going to do it.

The Back to the Farm Research Foundation in Davidson, Saskatchewan (of which I am president) has started a program of testing community water supplies for pesticides. Davidson is a community of 1,150 people about halfway between Regina and Saskatoon on Highway #11. It's a trading centre, serving a community of 2,000-3,000 rural and small town residents. Half of the water supply comes from a deep well and the other half comes from a small dam supplied by run-off water from the spring snow melt. The water runs over miles of fields that are sprayed with toxic agricultural pesticides several times during the growing season.

In my June 2001 column I reported that five Davidson infants had developed cancer in the last year. One baby was born with it. I asked the Minister of Health, John Neilson to investigate, which he promised to do. It didn't happen. The Cancer Agency, which is a part of the Department of Health, did establish a Cancer Cluster Committee (actually there were four infant cancer cases and one family moved to Weyburn. The three remaining infants all suffered from different kinds of cancer). But the Committee refused to investigate because the cancers were not a "cluster" or all the same kind.

The Committee is prepared to accept three infant cancers in this small community as normal or the "status quo." Our board of directors at Back to the Farm is not. Directors are testing the Davidson public water supply as well as the four public wells in the adjoining rural municipalities of Willner and Arm River to see if they are polluted with toxic pesticides (herbicides, pesticides and fungicides).

We have met with Davidson town council and have obtained its moral support as well as a financial contribution. We will meet with the rural councils shortly. We have also written and asked the Saskatchewan Department of Health for a list of accredited laboratories to test the water. We will send samples to two different labs for verification.

Saskatchewan Residents Misled

The provincial laboratory operated by Saskatchewan Health has only very recently started testing for pesticides.

Farmers and rural communities that have relied on the provincial laboratory for many years to test their farm water supplies have been misled. They assumed the water samples they were sending to the provincial lab were being tested for pesticides but they were not. The Blakeney NDP government (1971-82) and the Devine Conservative government (1982-91) both gave grants to the Saskatchewan Research Council to test community or small town water supplies for some pesticides. However, the tests were meaningless. They were not related to the agricultural chemicals used in the area. The results were never published, so Saskatchewan citizens have really been in the dark about the pollution in their drinking water.

The Romanow government discontinued the grant when elected in 1991 and no pesticide tests have been done for 10 years. Romanow was not an environmentalist and his government didn't seem to be aware that pure, unpolluted water and nutritious, certified organic food is the foundation of a good health-care program.

Following the water pollution problem at North Battleford, the opposition Saskatchewan Party received a leaked document last spring from an "unknown" source in government that showed there was a big coverup in both the Saskatchewan Water Corporation and the Environment Department about the quality of small town water supplies.

One hundred and nineteen communities out of a total of slightly over 500 had levels of trihalomethanes beyond acceptable levels. It is rather ironic that Davidson was one of those communities and received notice of this at the same time that the Cancer Agency refused to investigate the three infant cancer cases.

Trihalomethanes are created by organic matter in the water mixed with chlorine. Scientists have known for 25 years that both trihalomethanes and pesticides cause cancer. (Incidentally, one of the infants with cancer had surgery when it was 10 days old. Its mother said the tumour removed from its kidney was the size of a softball.)

We are inviting Dr Allan Cessna, National Hydrology Centre (federal government), Saskatoon, to a public meeting to talk about pesticide pollution of Saskatchewan water supplies. The public has been in the dark about water quality far too long. He has been testing water for pesticides for many years and says that all the surface water and 30 per cent of the deep wells he has tested have pesticides many with very high levels. However, the provincial government has ignored all his reports. We will ask him to help collect water samples for testing while he is here.

Cancer in Canada is one of our main growth industries. We spend billions of dollars on both cancer research and treatment but very little on finding the cause. I would challenge all Canadians to start testing their water and food for pesticides in their own communities. We must take collective action to clean up our environment. It is obvious that a "do it yourself" policy is our only hope. The government has had the opportunity for at least 30 years and our environment continues to deteriorate.



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Leah PayneLeah Payne