TEA has become aware that the City of Toronto is applying the pesticide permethrin to its temporary dumps as often as every 24 hours to combat pests attracted by the garbage.
We understand that the application of permethrin is a requirement of the provinical permits for the temporary dump sites that have been set up to service Torontonians emergency garbage disposal needs during legal strike by CUPE 416. Residents and the City need to take precautions to reduce negative impacts stemming from the applications of permethrin and the creation of temporary dumps on sites that were never designed to house garbage.
What is permethrin?
Permethrin is a synthetic insecticide modeled after natural insecticidal characteristics of pyrethrin (which comes from the seed casing of chrysanthemums). It acts as a neurotoxin and will either repel or kill insects. Permethrin is generally viewed as a less toxic alternative to organophosphate and organochloride pesticides that have been used more traditionally as insecticides.
Although Permethrin is much less toxic then other traditional insecticides, it is linked with some health and environmental hazards. As with most chemical sprays, direct contact can cause immediate health effects such as skin rashes and headaches. It is also highly toxic to beneficial insects (i.e. honeybees) and fish. One long-term human health concern linked to low-level exposure comes with permethrin's potential to act as an endocrine disruptor, meaning it may interfere with our body's ability to communicate through its hormones, glands and cellular receptors. Possible effects, depending on time of exposure, could be increased risk of reproductive problems, effects to children's development and thyroid disorders. Permethrin is a 'suspected' endocrine disruptor, and health effects from endocrine disruption are still being researched.
How can I protect myself from exposure?
Children and pregnant women are among the most vulnerable and should take the greatest precautions. The biggest route of exposure is inhalation or ingestion (especially for kids, as they put their hands to their mouths often). Avoid areas while they are being sprayed. Be mindful that spray can sometimes drift onto surfaces nearby depending on method of spraying used and wind patterns. If you see spray drifting, especially due to wind, call the Ministry of Environment pollution hotline (1-866-MOE-TIPS ) or the Spills Action Centre (1-800-268-6060) and report it. Please also call TEA at 416-596-0660.
Permethrin takes at least thirty days to break down when applied to soil, so use precaution when in and around sites that have been recently sprayed.
What should the City do?
While temporary dump sites may be necessary during the strike, the City of Toronto has a responsibility to protect people and the environment from hazards associated with these sites. TEA is specifically concerned about sites that are next to sports fields, playgrounds, and waterbodies. Over the next few days, we will be reviewing specific dump sites that are of greatest concern and asking the City to:
- Review and respond to the hazard of pesticide spray drift, especially in sites next to sports fields and playgrounds.
- Review and respond to the hazard of water contamination and the potential of harming fish and other aquatic species at sites located next to water bodies.
- Publically provide details of how they will clean up the temporary dump sites once they are no longer in use to ensure that any long-term contamination from the garbage and pesticides is eliminated before the public can access the site. This will likely mean keeping areas closed after the garbage is removed to allow for soil testing and mitigation.