Letter from Dr. Linda Harvey to Mayor and council

Linda Harvey B.Sc., M.Sc., M.D.
Elphin, Ont.
March 17, 2017

To: Mayor and Council
Lanark County
Re:Wild Parsnip

The parsnip situation has not gone away. Nor have local residents become any more complacent about the spraying program. There is a strong and growing opposition to the spraying of roadsides for wild parsnip. Perhaps another look at some of the issues is in order.

Consider the following:

In 2016 Lanark County budgeted $51,500 for roadside spraying and Lanark Highlands Township set aside ~$25,000, up from $0 the year before. In ten years, similar expenditures will add up to $250,000 and $515,000 respectively. What else could we be doing with this money?

Tay Valley Township and Mississippi Mills Township have successfully opted out of the spraying program. Now Rideau Lakes Township, just outside the Lanark boundary, has followed. This is an option.

Current OHIP diagnostic and billing codes do not allow the easy separation of photo-dermatitis caused by parsnip from all other dermatitis. Nor do they separate roadside exposures from exposures acquired on private property and in other non-target areas. We therefore have little or no solid data on how much of a problem this rash actually is, nor are we likely to get it unless we contract a formal study of our own. In my experience as a physician in Ontario, the rash is not at all common.
I suspect that if we include only those rashes which result from roadside exposures (which is what we will be preventing with a spraying program), and subtract out minor, superficial rashes that heal without scarring, there will be very few indeed. Perhaps none, in a good year.

The sprays, on the other hand, are toxic. Do not be fooled by claims of safety. Every pesticide that was ever on the market was considered safe when it came out. A long list of these have been banned as they were anything but safe. Aminopyralid is new. We do not know what its toxicity profile will be. I have corresponded with Health Canada about my concerns, and they assure me that they have a battery of tests they require the manufacturer to do and report results. If these are all satisfactory, the material is considered safe. These tests will not address my concerns; and surely you can see here the potential for problems with disclosure and honesty.

I urge you to look at the attached document entitled “ Kids on the Frontline”. It is an easily readable, factual summary of the effects of pesticides on children, particularly rural children. (If the attachment doesn’t come through with this letter, please Google “Kids on the Frontline”, it is well worth reading.) For a more technical presentation, see “2012 Systematic Review of Pesticide Health Effects” by the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

The parsnip may actually be remediating the soil on our roadways. Plants with a long fleshy taproot such as parsnip, or tillage radish [see Willian Dam seed catalog, 2017, p.84] or oilradish [see Organic Field Crop Handbook, Canadian Organic Growers, 1992, p. 142] actually act to loosen up compacted soils, scavenge nutrients from deeper layers, and provide a bit of compost when they die. All of the above plants have been used in this way. Could the parsnip be natures way of repairing the damaged soil along our roadways?
Heavy equipment work is very abusive to soil. In large projects often the topsoil is stripped away for use elsewhere. The remaining layers are compacted and disrupted in the course of work such as rebuilding or resurfacing sections of highway, or bridge and culvert work, or ditching, etc. Why not let the parsnip fix this? When it is done (in a few years, perhaps), the soil will again be suitable for other plants which will outcompete the parsnip and move in. This is the way nature works. Right now not much else can live in that damaged soil.

If you heed the adage “Follow the money”, it will lead you straight, by a short and direct pathway, to the chemical companies selling the herbicide. They are the winners in this. No one else is. Not the taxpayer, not the Township or County, certainly not the public being doused with toxic materials, nor the health care system that will need to take care of them in future and not the natural world. Not the pollinators and the other plants they depend on, not the farmers who depend on the pollinators. Only the chemical companies, who will take our money directly out of our community. Is this really what we want to support? Could it be we are all being taken to the cleaners?

I urge you to think carefully about the material you have just read.

Thank you for your consideration,

Linda Harvey

PS Also, upon carefully reading the Weed Control Act of Ontario, R.S.O. 1990, c. W.5, I note that Section 22 reads:

22.  Sections 3, 13, 16 and 18 do not apply to noxious weeds or weed seeds that are far enough away from any land used for agricultural or horticultural purposes that they do not interfere with that use.  R.S.O. 1990, c. W.5, s. 22.

Sections 3,13,16 and 18 describe the circumstances under which noxious weeds must be destroyed, including notice, expense, appeal, etc.

To my understanding, this Exception would include large stretches of the roadsides in Lanark County, both those under County jurisdiction and those managed by the Townships. How many of our roadsides border on registered conventional (non-organic) farms? This information should be retrievable from your tax base information.

Note the following in regard to Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa): The plant has a single long taproot and does not reproduce from root suckers or runners. The seeds are relatively heavy, and travel a short distance on the wind before falling to the ground. They have neither burs to cling onto passing animals nor fluff to allow wind borne migration.

Therefore only registered farmland within a few metres of a given stand of parsnips is at risk of being colonized and only these parsnips fall within the terms of the Weed Control Act.

This information renders large parts of your spraying initiative unnecessary, in regard to the Weed Control Act, not to mention potentially damaging to the environment and very unpopular with many of your constituents, as you know.

I would strongly suggest you consult your lawyers to see if there is a withdrawal or cancellation clause in the contracts you have signed in regard to spraying. You may want to pursue this route.

Thank you for your consideration in this.

Yours sincerely,
Linda Harvey
(613) 278-0819