Letter: A few clarifications on the Garlon use on Cockburn Island story

It is clear that overuse of the such products is having a clear and negative impact on the world

To the Expositor:

Re. your news item ‘Nature Conservancy okay with careful Cockburn Garlon use,’ September 18, Page 4.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by” – Douglas Adams. 

Sometimes deadlines have a tendency to choke the habit of checking for accuracy.

I read this article in your online edition this morning with some interest, because I know both The Expositor and the Recorder have provided accurate and balanced reporting on the broad topic of pesticide use on Manitoulin over the last couple of years.

I have to say, with this specific article I’m not sure accuracy and balance are the applicable words. I’d certainly agree with the final sentence, “Hydro One is required to follow provincial and federal guidelines that apply to the application of herbicides” but after that, there is much to comment on and correct. 

First, Hydro One does not place “an ad.” What your reporter is referring to is a “statutory public warning or notice” (part of the provincial requirements as laid out in the Pesticides Act). Any of the four excepted groups under the Act that are permitted to use pesticides: golf courses; agriculture; forestry (I believe public utilities and Ontario ministries may be included in this (like Hydro ONE, Bell and MTO but they are certainly included); promotion of public health or safety; and other prescribed uses, if any prescribed conditions have been met.  2008, c. 11, s. 2. Ontario Regulation 63/09. Section 79. Alternative to non-residential area signs:

2) For the purposes of subsection (1), public notice may be given with the written approval of the Director, by the following means:

1. Publication in a newspaper of general circulation in the vicinity of the application area at least one week before the extermination begins.

What is concerning is that neither MTO/Pioneer nor, as far as I can see, Hydro One provided the minimum one week notice to the public. Could be a minor point, or could be a sign of a casual approach to the process as a whole.

Each notice is required to describe the process to be used. What Hydro One documented seems to differ from what the NCC spokesperson understood. Brush saws and off-road tracked vehicles don’t appear to be welcomed on NCC’s pristine lands, but since the pesticide treatment options requires cut surfaces of woody plants to do “its job” I’m not sure how that will be achieved.

I do have a pet peeve. Garlon (like Roundup) is a brand name for a range of products, different packaging/concentrations etc. What is most important is the active pesticide ingredient. In the case of Hydro One’s product of choice, Garlon RTU, the active ingredient is Triclopyr. Still lethal, still required trained and certified technicians clad in hazmat suits to deliver, but a replacement for the Garlon version which contained glyphosate, which Hydro One used until recently on rights of way in inhabited areas. Glyphosate is the pesticide which the UN has stated is a carcinogen and which is being phased out and banned in several European countries (hopefully in Canada soon too). More to the point, as the article in last Friday’s Recorder stated, glyphosate-based products are being aerially sprayed on federal lands which form part of the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850, and a group of First Nations covered by that treaty are taking the federal government to court via a delegated group, the TEK Elders.

Finally, the headline for this piece is misleading. I was in communication with Nature Conservancy over the weekend and on Monday of this week. They told me that Hydro One contacted them earlier this year, and were planning to start the vegetation management on Cockburn Island in the spring. This raised concerns with them, because that was the peak time for birds to be nesting. Hydro One agreed to defer until later i.e. now! So far, so good! But NCC also had misgivings about heavy equipment being used on Cockburn. Certainly, heavy equipment can be part of Hydro One’s usual complement of equipment in other places. It remains to be seen whether “off road tracked vehicles” as listed in the notice satisfy NCC’s stated concerns there.

On a personal note, I am not at war with Hydro One or any other utility for that matter. A number of years ago, before the original Ontario Hydro was broken up, I was providing consulting advice to the then nuclear division and was hauled up in front of the Chief Nuclear Officer of the day for accurately reporting status on some mission critical work contrasting with the inaccurate status reporting of the project manager. I worked for Bell for seven years (including two years in Saudi Arabia) on some pretty mission critical projects, and left on good terms. 

I am however, strongly opposed to standard operating practices where pesticides have been incorporated because it is clear, worldwide, that overuse of such products is having a clear and negative impact on the world in which we all live.

Paul Darlaston