Ontario Pesticide Ban-For Dummies Version

I am not impressed with the Ontario Government’s public information efforts regarding the new sweeping pesticide ban that went into effect on Earth Day. Their website is a labyrinth of links, beaurocrat-ese, and PDF downloads. After spending over an hour on their and various other sites, I couldn’t find one easy-to-understand list of all the banned substances so that home gardens could try to decode this important new legislation.

After scrolling through the Province’s Pesticides Act website, hoping to find the info there (that took awhile!) I finally found a download that is helpfully named: “class7pesticides.pdf”, which if I understand correctly is the one that pertains to home gardens. The Province is defining “pesticides” broadly, including products used to control both insects and weeds.

Now most of the bad boys on the list I would never dream of using. However, there are a few items that appear in innocuous-sounding products made by Safer and Green Earth that are surprising. Things we used to think of as environmentally friendly, like pyrethrins (made from plants in the chrysanthemum family) are on the banned list for cosmetic use by home gardeners. The two most important terms in that italicized phrase are “cosmetic use” and “home gardeners.” Commercial growers (farmers) or golf courses, for example, are exempt from the ban.

To further confuse us, acceptable products, such as insecticidal soaps, have been banned if they contain pyrethrins, but not if they don’t. Yet, banned products may remain on store shelves because people can still use them inside their homes for insect control.

Nowhere that I can see has the Ontario Government made an effort to make all this new information people friendly and easy to understand. And what is the point of new legislation if people don’t understand it? Or even know about it? From what I can see, there seems to be a sort of “honour system” in place where sellers are required to hand out a slip of paper, called the “Class 7 Handout” where you are informed that you have purchased a controlled substance, and it then directs you to the website. Where you will be further confused. Then you’re on the honour system to use as directed – as well as to dispose of any banned products you might happen to already own.

According to the PDF, banned CLASS 7 pesticides include common big guns such as Malathion and Sevin. However, you can use some of the tougher bug sprays, for instance, to get rid of stinging insects – if wasps take up residence in your sun porch.

Insects that bug us are also often pollinators, so be careful with who you try to get rid of.

Herbicidal products such as Round-Up or Wipe-Out (glyphosate or glufosinate) are also banned for cosmetic use – that means, you can’t use them to control dandelions in your lawn, but you can use it to get rid of poison ivy. The Cosmetic Pesticide Act defines cosmetic as “non-essential”or used to improve the appearance of lawns, gardens, trees. You have to promise that you’ll only use it on the poison ivy: Honour system.

Poison Ivy – Poison I-i-i-i-ivy – You can look but you’d better not touch.

You also have to be careful with products containing Capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers hot.

We did find one fairly simple overview online, from the David Suzuki Foundation. Blogger won’t let us attach a PDF, so here is the pertinent text of that document.

The cosmetic use of 82 pesticide active ingredients is prohibited, along with the sale of 295 products containing these chemicals.

• Weedout
• Killex
• Weed and Feed fertilizer-pesticide mix
• Roundup
• Wipeout
• Glyphosate and Glufosinate (found in Roundup and Wipeout)

• Beginning in April 2011, ninety-seven “dual use” products will have store display restrictions. Products containing banned chemicals may still be used for safety purposes under the health and safety exemption (*see below).

• Store owners must provide information handouts about the pesticide ban to customers.

• There are strong standards for classifying new pesticides. Substances that meet low-risk criteria and reduced-risk biopesticides will be allowed for cosmetic use.

• The Cosmetic Pesticide Act defines cosmetic as “non-essential.” i.e. to improve appearance of lawns, gardens, trees, and other aspects of landscaping.
Why anyone would want to use a herbicide like 2-4-D to get rid of beautiful clover in their lawn is beyond me.

• “Public health” exemption allows certain pesticides on plants poisonous to the touch (e.g. poison ivy). They can be sold but there are new restrictions on the store display of “dual use” products.

• Lawn care companies that use pesticides under the Public Health exemption will be required to post warning signs

• Pesticides to control insects that bite, sting, are venomous, or carry disease are also exempted from the ban, including insect repellents and wasp sprays.

• Golf courses are exempt from the ban, but must submit public annual reports of the amount pesticide used and plans to minimize pesticide use. (The reports are available to the public, presented at an annual public meeting, and posted online. )

• Golf courses must be certified in Integrated Pest Management.

• Specialty turf for lawn bowling, cricket, lawn tennis, or croquet is exempted from the ban, subject to Integrated Pest Management requirements. Operators must prepare annual reports on pesticide use and make them available to the public upon request.

• Requirements for golf courses and specialty turf will be phased in between 2010 and 2012.


• The regulations make no requirement for golf courses or specialty turf to reduce or phase out pesticide use. Reporting requirements are unnecessarily delayed.

• The ban doesn’t extend to house plants – only outdoor plants. This is an artificial distinction and also a loophole that allows the continued sale of indoor/outdoor pesticides. The ban on the outdoor use of these products will be difficult (*almost impossible -ed. by Sarah) to enforce.

• The exemption allowing Glyphosate and Glufosinate on poisonous plants is unconstrained. Enforcing the ban on these pesticides for other cosmetic purposes will be difficult (if not impossible -ed by Sarah).

•While Licensed lawn care companies must post warning signs where pesticides are used on poisonous plants, but notice doesn’t apply to people using pesticides around their own home.

• Retail display restrictions on “dual use” products will not take effect for two years.

• The Ontario Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Act supersedes municipal pesticide bylaws. Municipalities will not be able to adopt tougher restrictions on pesticides or enforce their own pesticide bylaws.

The Ontario government must focus on ensuring the effective implementation and enforcement of the ban. Other provinces, and federal regulators, can look to Ontario’s cosmetic pesticide ban as a model. (When enforced – ed. by Sarah)

* 1. Under the Act, pesticide use in commercial agriculture and forestry, to maintain golf courses, and to promote public health or safety is not considered “cosmetic”. These uses are therefore exempted from the ban. The regulations provide additional exemptions for pesticide use on sports fields hosting a national or international sporting events, on specialty turf (e.g. lawn bowling fields); to prevent significant structural damage to public works and other structures where public safety is concerned; to maintain the health of trees; and to protect or manage natural resources.


  1. Pyrethrins are highly toxic, more so than Malathion, believe it or not. Natural is not necessarily less harmful.
    Roundup is less toxic than the vinegar concentrate that is required now for cosmetic weed control; the chemical guys at work hate it. It's 12 molar glacial acetic acid that they water down. If you inhale too deeply near an open container of concentrate it burns the inside of your nose severely and will melt off nose hairs. It also does not break down upon contact with soil, unlike glyphosate.

    The Ontario Government rushed into a pesticide ban without doing proper research. As a result, we have many safe pesticides banned outright and illegal caches of potentially dangerous products hidden in people's garages and basements. Instead of qualified, trained personnel applying the product, unqualified, untrained people will be spraying without even the beginnings of an understanding of IPM.

  2. Seems like a whole lot of work has gone into something that is not effectively policed to me!

    P.S. Are you happy that I've commented?!!

    Ryan (Ryansgarden)

  3. Yes, Ryan I am thrilled to have the Welsh perspective on here! Didn't have to tie you up or anything! You are quite right about the ineffective policing. Makes the ban not really a ban at all.

    I suppose the best thing you can say for this new legislation is that it's a start. The legislation is in place, now for public being informed as well as the implementation and enforcement. As noted above, enforcement is currently IMPOSSIBLE.

  4. Nick, thanks for your perspective, obviously you are coming from the professional field. Very interesting about Roundup vs the acetic acid. I know I've bought the acetic acid stuff myself from an organic supplier. (probably not at the concentration you are talking about though.
    Just read something somewhere re: Rounup as to how it's not merely the glyphosate but another chemical that they also add in there that is even worse. Chemical was tested in petri dish on human cells and killed them, but some argued that that wasn't a fair test.

  5. Just wondering if any readers have had any experiences – positive or negative – with any natural / organic 'weed n' feed' alterates for lawns.

  6. The ban is ridiculous. What is cosmetic about the destruction created by termites and carpenter ants. Yet when I try to get products that actually work none to be found. And how about the Emerald Ash Borer. There is a product availabe as a drench that cost about #20.00 a bottle that could save thousands of trees but you cant get it here. If you want you tree saved from this bug you have to hire a company at $200 a treatment to save your tree. (One treatment last two years) That means in Ontario it cost $100/year to save an Ash tree as opposed to $20/year

  7. There are many synthetic advanced herbicides not on the group 9 ban list that work extremely well, that you can use without issue because they just have no intention of updating the ban list in Ontario. Also Ontario have yearly increased the organic pesticide chemicals allowed to 69 for farmers or cosmetics. None of these require extensive testing or study, as for example 2,4-D does. There is no real ban, unless you are a lawn care business.

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