In a battle to protect the city's elm trees, the City of Regina is spraying a controversial chemical.
Both the City of Regina and the Wascana Centre Authority’s approach for tackling the bark beetle is an organophosphate chemical spray called Dursban, the product name for chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos works by interrupting the electrochemical transmissions within the central nervous system.
Citing health concerns, chlorpyrifos has been banned for residential sale in Canada and the United States. It is allowed for some commercial use, such as control of Dutch elm disease. The product continues to face reviews by Health Canada.
D’Arcy Schenk, manager of forestry and horticulture for Wascana Centre Authority says the chemical is the best way to battle the beetle.
“We’ve been using Dursban for 20 years. There are only two pesticides registered for bark beetle control and the one that is effective is the Dursban.” Schenk says the product poses minimal risk to the environment. “We spray the bottom foot of the tree and there’s very little drift because you’re just spraying that very small portion.”
The beetles weaken elm trees, making them susceptible to Dutch elm disease, a highly contagious disease that has taken down 62 trees in Regina since 1981.
A small dose of chlorpyrifos is lethal to a bug, but according to Health Canada, is safe for an average adult. Paule Hjertaas, president and spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Network for Alternatives to Pesticides disagrees. She says the threat of pesticides is very real even though the residual effects are not easy to track. “There is a big problem with tests because it is hard to have baseline data. Different people have different levels and the best way to test would be to test against yourself.”
Hjertaas says that children and animals are much more vulnerable to pesticides. “Children do not develop their immune systems until six or seven years old. They are 20 times more sensitive to pesticides.”
Not only are children more sensitive because of their underdeveloped immune systems, they are also more vulnerable because of their relationship to the environment, according the Hjertaas. Children are lower to the ground and therefore closer to the areas where chemicals are sprayed.
Crystal Massier, a mother of two young girls says she is concerned. "I get the notices of spraying in the mail. I don't know exactly what they're spraying and it worries me."