|Pesticide-tainted seed spread on
Winnipeg Free Press
By: Paul Egan
The province allowed a waste company to
dispose of about 1,250 tonnes of contaminated canola seed by spreading it
on land that drains into the Red River near St. Jean Baptiste.
The seed had been treated with
slow-to-break-down insecticide and suspected carcinogen that the Canadian
government withdrew from use on canola in 2001, following a similar ban in
the United States.
Depending on concentrations, short-term
exposure to humans can cause high body temperature and accumulation of
liquid in the lungs, while long-term exposure to
lindane can cause liver
and kidney damage and possibly cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. Lindane is also toxic to fish.
A compost of the contaminated seed was
spread on the farmland between May 2002 and November 2004, said Steve
Davis, director of environmental programs for Manitoba Conservation. The
land drains into the Red River and Lake Winnipeg, but the province does
not know how much lindane reached the waterways because Davis said it has
done no water testing.
Richard Wiles, senior vice-president of
the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C. and an expert on
pesticide pollution, said the lindane poses a potential risk to fish and
other water life and could be draining from the soil into the river and
lake for several years.
"It's definitely not what I think most
experts would consider a responsible way of disposing of it," Wiles said.
"Dumping it out in the environment is not what I think you would recommend
-- that's why we banned it in the first place."
Davis said the province authorized Miller
Environmental Corp. to experiment with disposing of the treated seed by
spreading it on farmland.
The province authorized Miller to spread
the contaminated seed on four farms near St. Jean Baptiste between 2002
and 2004, Davis said. Some of the land is owned by Miller and some is
privately owned, he said.
Despite that, no new environmental
licence was required, he said. Manitoba Conservation wrote a letter
authorizing Miller Environmental to spread the
lindane-treated seed under
the authority of its existing licence to operate its waste-treatment
facility near the farms, Davis said.
Environment Canada is investigating the
practice after receiving a complaint referred to it by the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans, said Barry Briscoe, manager of environmental
protection for Environment Canada in Winnipeg.
Davis said the most recent test results
available are from 2002. He said those tests showed low levels of
in both the soil and in crops grown on the land where the contaminated
seed had been spread. But he said Manitoba Conservation has never tested
water in the drains around the farms, which drain into the Red River less
than two kilometres away.
A consultant's report said runoff would
not be a concern, he said.
Davis was not able to provide specific
figures from the 2002 testing and said the results of more recent soil
testing are still being awaited. Nor was he able to provide details on the
lindane concentration in the composted seed material that was spread on
the farmland, except to say that it was higher than 0.4 milligrams per
Miller Environmental received about 2,500
tonnes of the lindane-treated canola seed from United Grain Growers, he
said. The company disposed of the less-contaminated half at its
waste-treatment facility and the other half by spreading it on the
farmland, he said.
Ross Edmunds, general manager of Miller
Environmental Corp., said his company co-ordinated the spreading of the
lindane-treated seed by MidCanada Environmental Services Ltd. of Winnipeg.
MidCanada officials did not return phone calls.
"We didn't have a heck of a lot to do
with it" except that the spreading was done under Miller's environmental
licence, Edmunds said.
A cleaning and composting process before
the spreading removed about 90 per cent of the
lindane, he said.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said
he's surprised the province would approve such an experiment, particularly
without public notification or consultation.
"To do this without any water testing is
irresponsible," Gerrard said. "It's unbelievable."
In addition to concerns about fish, there
are drinking-water intakes on the Red River downstream from St. Jean
Baptiste. Wiles, the Washington pesticide expert, said he thought
potential harm to fish would be greater than the drinking-water worries.
Tory agriculture critic Jack Penner said
he received a complaint about the seed-spreading from Walter Neidhardt, a
neighbouring farmer who was in Germany yesterday and could not be reached
"If it was permitted by the province of
Manitoba, as I've been told that it was, then the province would, I think,
have some answering to do," Penner said.
Anne-Marie Fillion, who farms with her
husband Robert near St. Jean Baptiste, said the couple was paid to receive
the lindane-treated canola seed on two occasions, most recently last fall.
Aside from Neidhardt, "the neighbours
have no problem with it," Fillion said. "At least now it doesn't smell and
it's incorporated in the ground. Everything is OK."
Because it's mixed with compost, the
treated seed actually improves the soil, she said. "It's a win-win
situation for us."
Facts about lindane
- Chemical name: hexachlorocyclohexane
- Properties: A white crystalline
- Uses: Increasingly restricted as an
insecticide, lindane is also the active ingredient in certain shampoos
used to kill head lice.
- Health risks: Depends on levels and
duration of exposure, but linked to liver and kidney damage, as well as
- Persistence: Will break down in soil,
but process takes many years. Not broken down by microbes in water.