In a first for Canada, Montreal has banned an extensive list of highly toxic pesticides on golf courses due to the risk they pose to human health and the environment, including several still considered safe by Canada's pesticide regulator.

The ban extends to glyphosate, a controversial and widely-used herbicide that is neurotoxic, disrupts the endocrine system and can cause cancer.

The move extends a 2021 city-wide ban on the 32 pesticides that contained an exemption for golf courses. The new rules close that loophole, with two exceptions to control the growth of plantain and a fungal disease. Railway right-of-ways are also exempted from the ban for safety reasons.

Marie-Andrée Mauger, Montreal's director of environment and ecological transition, said in a statement she hopes the ban will encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit. The change — which was designed in a way to support golf courses through the transition — signals the city's "strong commitment" to protecting human health and biodiversity, she said.

The use of pesticides on golf greens is particularly harmful because they pose additional, unnecessary and preventable risks to health and the environment, said Meg Sears, chair of Prevent Cancer Now. Not only are golf course workers and golfers exposed to the chemicals, but many greens are located close to streams and wetlands where pesticides can leach into the water.

Montreal has banned the use of 32 highly toxic pesticides on golf courses due to the risk they pose to human health and the environment, including several considered safe by Canada's pesticide regulator.

The decision sets an important precedent for municipalities because "they are not the first [so] they don't have to deal with the complexities of this," said Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University and former co-chair of a federal scientific advisory committee to Canada's pesticide regulator. "It shows there are clearly some golf course operators who are willing to [stop using pesticides], so in that sense it is quite powerful."

While other Canadian municipalities and provinces have banned the use of some pesticides for cosmetic purposes, Lanphear noted that golf courses are typically exempt from these laws — making Montreal's move unique. Except for Ontario municipalities, other cities in Canada could imitate Montreal's ban, said Laura Bowman, a lawyer at Ecojustice who specializes in pesticides.

Ontario prohibits municipalities from restricting the use, sale or transfer of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. It also allows golf courses to use some cosmetic pesticides that are otherwise prohibited under provincial laws, she explained.

The province requires golf course operators to report annually their pesticide use, and data shows an overall increase in pesticide use on golf greens between 2010 and 2017. However, a 2020 study determined that not all golf course owners filed the required reports, making it difficult to accurately assess actual pesticide use.

Beyond Ontario's report, there is minimal information about Canada's pesticide use — and not only on golf greens. Obtaining information about how many pesticides are used on fields, forests and greenhouse crops is also difficult.

The federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) does not track how many pesticides are used nationally, how they are used and where they are applied. The only estimates it provides are sales and some water quality data, which critics say give an inadequate picture of the chemicals' impact on health and the environment.

It is not the first time the PMRA has come under fire recently. Last year, Canada's National Observer found the agency had for years downplayed health and environmental concerns from its own scientists about the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos. The same year, it downplayed the health risks of the pesticide dimethyl tetrachloroterephtalate (DCPA), which is not an organophosphate, in the wake of an emergency warning from the EPA about the chemical.

The agency's transparency and regulatory approach has also come into question after Lanphear resigned from a scientific advisory position with the agency last year due to transparency issues. During his departure, he lambasted the organization's "obsolete" approach to pesticide regulation.

Montreal's decision shows that the PMRA "is behind the times" when it comes to banning pesticides, Lanphear said. It isn't uncommon for municipalities and smaller jurisdictions to implement progressive environmental policies ahead of similar ones at the federal level — though "it should go the other way," he said.

The PMRA and other regulatory agencies have more power and better resources to address pesticide use than municipal governments, he noted. Yet, as Montreal has shown, those resources aren't always enough to lead to strong regulatory changes if the agency lacks the political or institutional will to change, he said.

"What you would hope is that there is a federal agency that has the resources on top of all these things so every municipality doesn't have to make these types of decisions," he said. "That would be efficient."

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As an avid golfer, I find it interesting that Ontario government has gone to great lengths to allow and prevent municipalities from prohibiting the use of toxic pesticides, even those that have been banned. The lessons learned in Montreal should be a wake up call to Ontario who seem to put the welfare of golf course first over the health and safety of Ontarians. But, I also fault the federal government for their foot dragging on outlawing many toxic substances used in Canada, especially those that are known to be toxic to it's citizens.

This makes me think twice about what golf courses are doing for maintenance and what substances they are using.

The problem with golf courses isn't pesticide use. It's the fertilizer run off, water management, and poor land use policies. I like to suggest the author take some training in risk assessment and management.