Risky pesticides can remain in circulation for years, audit finds

OTTAWA -- A new audit finds that it takes years for the federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency to remove risky pesticides from the marketplace and that routine re-evaluations are falling far behind.

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The annual report from the federal environment commissioner's office tabled Tuesday in Parliament also says conditionally registered products, which have not been properly vetted, have been in use for more than a decade in some cases.

The Liberal government moved last week to stop the practice of conditionally registering pesticides, effective this June, but the commissioner's report indicates that is just one area of concern.

"I am also concerned that it took the agency an average of five years -- and up to 11 years -- to remove some pesticides from the market when it determined that they posed unacceptable risks for all uses," commissioner Julie Gelfand said in prepared remarks.

There are about 7,000 pesticides available to Canadian consumers, containing some 600 active ingredients.

All products are supposed to be re-evaluated every 15 years and Gelfand says 95 per cent of re-evaluations result in additional precautions to protect health or the environment.

However only 14 products are re-checked each year, just a fraction of the number that should be re-evaluated, with more pesticides up for re-evaluation every year -- and even products that are found to be unacceptably risky remain in circulation for years.

The commissioner also found that the agency did not assess the cumulative effects of products on human health, even when required to do so under the law.

When products were found to pose unacceptable risks, it took the agency between four and 11 years to cancel their registrations, sometimes citing a lack of an alternative product and, in other cases, allowing suppliers to sell their stockpile before lowering the boom.

As for those conditionally registered products, the audit found that eight of the nine pesticides that had been conditionally registered for more than a decade were neonicotinoids.

"These products are now used extensively in Canada and are widely suspected of being a threat to bees, other pollinators, and broader ecosystems," says the report.

Another chapter of the report surveyed four federal departments and found they all failed to follow a cabinet directive on assessing environmental effects of policies.

In fact, the commissioner's audit found that just five of more than 1,700 policy proposals put forward by the four departments were the subject of strategic environmental assessments.


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