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Doug Cotton's lawn has been destroyed -- eaten alive from below by grubs and torn to bits from above by the skunks and raccoons that prey on them.
Cotton, a 48-year-old firefighter, will now spend over $1,000 to have the front lawn of his Scarborough bungalow dug up and replaced.
He's not the only one. Cotton is just following in the footsteps of several of his neighbours who have either done the same, or are planning to.
He lays blame at the feet of the Ontario government and its sweeping ban of cosmetic pesticides it enacted in 2009, which leaves homeowners such as Cotton to rely on the more time-consuming and relatively-expensive organic methods of dealing with grubs -- tiny, worm-like beetle larvae that pupate under the lawn by feeding on the roots of grass.
The single homeowner tried the legal alternatives -- sperm-sized, grub-killing worms called nematodes, for example -- but with little success, as the damage had been done. Now, Cotton wakes daily to new pits dug in his lawn by the claws of urban wildlife in search of food.
"I'm ready to rip the whole thing up -- at my cost -- thanks to this ban," Cotton said, while standing next to the dry and cracked square bed of dirt that, up until several years ago, was a lush, green front lawn. "I would just like to enjoy my home and have a nice lawn ... I'm here, a single wage earner, and after my property taxes, there is not much left, and now I have to spend how much more just to maintain a home that looks good?"
The provincial ban, which replaced already-existing municipal restrictions, forbids the use of toxic pesticides for residential lawns, gardens and driveways, as well as many public areas, as a way of dispatching weeds and bugs. Exemptions to the ban include golf courses, specialty turf for activities such as lawn bowling, sporting fields hosting national and international events, and forestry.
The ban, says landscaper Kyle Tobin, has made it far more time consuming and expensive for homeowners to maintain healthy lawns. What used to be $250 yearly payout to have an average-sized lawn treated can now run as high as $600, and over $1,000 to renovate a lawn already destroyed.
The ban, coupled with last winter's relatively-high temperatures, has caused the grub problem to explode, he said.
"Weed and grub issues are worse than we've ever seen .... and a big part of that is the provincial ban and the preceding municipal ban," said Tobin, adding that ingredients in some of the banned pesticides are still being used to treat food and in flea repellent for pets.
"A lot of people have given up," said Tobin, "(And) the organic products we have can't be compared (to pesticides). It is not the same thing, and they don't have the same results."
Tobin, who has been in the lawn-care business for over 20 years, also objects to the ban because of the ongoing debate around just how hazardous pesticides are to people's health, pointing to a controversial report that initially prompted the province's outlawing of pesticides.
The Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) released in 2004 a paper that compiled findings from various studies on pesticide exposure and found "consistent links" between pesticide use and cancer, neurological diseases and reproductive problems.
Almost immediately, the paper was met with criticism both here and abroad.
The United Kingdom's Advisory Panel on Pesticides, a governmental regulatory arm, stated there were "serious flaws" with the OCFP report, such as "failure" to take into account studies running contrary to the OCFP's findings and not adequately examining domestic exposure to pesticides.
And around two years later, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research published a paper questioning the weight of the OCFP report, stating that "more ... well-designed studies that provide reliable and valid exposures measures" were needed.
Debate or not, putting people's health at risk just for the look of a lawn is not worth it, says Farrah Khan of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, an organization that fully backs the OCFP paper.
"The OCFP has put out a study that shows serious links (to) cancer, neurological impairment and reproductive problems, and when we're talking about health issues, we should really look to the experts," said Khan, who linked the pesticide debate with the ongoing debate around smoking and cancer. "The risk we are putting our kids and vulnerable people at is not worth it."
None of this earnest debate is going to help Doug Cotton or any of his neighbours.
They will just have to re-turf or start paving.
The grubs have won this round.
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