The City of Edmonton faces prosecution and acknowledges vegetation damage occurred when weed killer was “inadvertently sprayed” in a residential neighbourhood in the spring of 2016. A court date has been set for September 28 after Alberta Environment and Parks laid the charges earlier this month.
Six counts under Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and one under the Pesticide Sales, Handling, Use and Application Regulation allege improper handling and release of a substance that “may cause a significant adverse effect” and failure to report the incident to provincial regulators. Three of the counts relate to failure to comply with instructions on the product label advising its application only on “undesirable woody plants” on “non-cropland sites”, avoiding the possibility of public exposure or potential contact with “desirable trees or other plants”.
In a written statement released after the charges became public, Edmonton’s deputy city manager, Gord Cebryk, confirmed that the city almost immediately ceased using the product in question. Following an internal investigation, soil in the affected area was excavated and replaced in the fall of 2017, approximately 18 months after the incident.
“We also notified nearby property owners, local schools and community leagues of the remediation work and the herbicide — both prior to the closing of the pathways and after they were opened,” Cebryk stated.
That remediation work occurred in sync with the release of the city auditor’s report on pesticide use and assessment of Edmonton’s integrated pest management policy. Findings show a decline in pesticide use from a high point in 2001, when about 5,600 kilograms were applied, to about 4,000 kilograms in 2016.
Of these, the vast share are insecticides, targeting mosquitoes, and bactericide used in the lake where the swimming portion of an annual triathlon occurs. Herbicide use dropped substantially over the period the auditor reviewed since it is now applied in spot spraying to less than 5 per cent of the city’s mowed grass inventory versus the practice of spraying 50 per cent of the mowed grass inventory prior to 2000.
Perhaps for this reason, the city received more than three times as many public complaints about weeds than about mosquitoes in a 43-month period the auditor examined between January 2014 and July 2017. “Of the 8,600 calls, approximately 1,300 related to weed concerns and approximately 400 related to mosquito concerns. The remainder were related to grass and other concerns,” the auditor’s report reveals.
The report concluded that city manages pests effectively, but called for a review and update of the policy put in place in 2004, along with improvements in documentation and public communications.