A clearcut in Cumberland County. Photo: Joan Baxter

On August 17, the Nova Scotia Environment Department issued three new approvals for aerial spraying, giving two companies — Century Forestry Consultants of Amherst and New Brunswick’s J.D. Irving — until the end of the year to spray 1,498 hectares (3,701 acres, equivalent to about 2,800 football fields) of private woodlots with two herbicides, Belchim Crop Protection Canada’s Timberline and Dow AgroScience’s VP480. The purpose is to kill hardwood species that would compete with conifers. 

The active ingredient in both herbicides is glyphosate. 

News that these permits had been granted for the spraying of pesticides containing glyphosate, which the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified five years ago as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” made Fall River resident Stacey Rudderham “incredibly angry.”

Stacey Rudderham (contributed)

For one thing, Rudderham told the Halifax Examiner, she is against forestry management that involves clearcutting and spraying of glyphosate-based herbicides, and it is something she has opposed “for many, many, many years.” 

But additionally, Rudderham, a mother of two and also a blogger, is in the early stages of remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that has been widely linked with exposure to glyphosate. She would like to know much more about her exposure to the herbicide and whether it was a factor in her cancer.

A peer-reviewed study published last year showed that people exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides have an elevated risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and for those with the greatest exposure to the herbicide the risk increases by 41%.

Roundup spray grass and weed control is available from a NS retailer

Glyphosate is the weed-killer that the giant and controversial agrochemical and biotech company Monsanto put on the market in 1974 under the name “Roundup,” and then complemented 20 years later with its genetically modified “Roundup Ready” crops that could be sprayed with the herbicide because they had been genetically engineered to withstand it. 

Since then, glyphosate has become a common ingredient in herbicides produced by many agrochemical companies. 

In 2018 the German giant, Bayer, acquired Monsanto in a US$ 62.5 billion deal. 

Bayer found itself facing tens of thousands of lawsuits in the United States, where claimants said that the glyphosate in Roundup was a contributing factor to their cancer. Bayer has agreed to pay more than US$10 billion to resolve the claims in the United States, but has not admitted wrongdoing.

According to the Western Producer, as of June this year more than 500 Canadians, mostly in western provinces and from farming communities, were also pursuing legal action against Bayer. 

None of this seems to be on any provincial radar in Nova Scotia, where glyphosate spraying continues unabated, with unquestioning provincial approval. 

An email to Nova Scotia Environment with questions about how the aerial spraying would be monitored, why the province was not respecting World Health Organization warnings about the health risks of glyphosate, and about other uses of the herbicide in the province has not been answered as of publication time. 

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

All of the emerging evidence of a link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma explains why Rudderham was upset to see this week’s approvals for spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on forestry land. 

In a phone interview, she told the Examiner that the main non-environmental risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma do not apply to her. 

She pointed out that she is not over 60 years of age, and has never had a viral infection such as HIV/AIDS, both of which are considered risk factors for the cancer.

Another factor, she noted, is glyphosate. 

However, Rudderham observed, she doesn’t work in industries or places where glyphosate is used extensively — on farms where it is sprayed to kill off weeds in fields of glyphosate-resistant crops or to dry out crops just before they are harvested, or in forestry where it is sprayed to kill hardwoods, and on golf courses where it is a popular weed-killer. 

Rudderham said she doesn’t use glyphosate at home, and tries to avoid foods that would be heavily contaminated with it, buying organic for herself and her family whenever possible. 

Still, she developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She described her ordeal this way:

Lymphoma usually shows up in your lymph nodes as a primary presentation. And sometimes it’ll show up elsewhere, just like other cancers do. That’s how they figure out if you’re stage one or two or three or four, depending on where it presents itself. And mine did not present itself in any of my lymph nodes or my lymphatic system. It showed up in my scalp and grew through my skull. And when you research my particular kind of presentation, you find it is extraordinarily rare.

And it grew so rapidly, like in eight months, it went from being the size of a slice of an orange or a small tangerine, to being the size of an orange, a full orange on the outside of my scalp. And then by the time I did get some good medical attention to it, eight months later, it had started forming inside of my skull outside of the liner of my brain and it had gone right through the bone of my skull. It was a very aggressive, and very rare. I heard over and over again from all the different doctors I was dealing with how rare my situation was and how atypical everything was.

A scan of Rudderham’s lymphoma tumour
A scan of Rudderham’s lymphoma tumour

On January 29, 2019, Rudderham says that she was told she might not live another six days. 

She then underwent emergency surgery. 

First the lump was removed from the outside of her skull. Tests showed it was lymphoma. Then Rudderham was put on a steroid to shrink the tumour inside her cranium. This was followed by nine weeks of chemotherapy. After that, she underwent 28 rounds of radiation to her head. Today, she still suffers headaches, and sometimes has problems finding and putting together words. 

Rudderham said that like many cancer patients, she wanted to understand what might have caused her cancer. Because glyphosate has been widely associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she wanted to know what levels of glyphosate were in her body. 

She had to look south of the border to find labs that did such testing. 

“I started doing a lot of research and there were a couple of different organizations in the United States that offered testing,” she said. “You had to pay for it.”

Rudderham explained that urine tests are used for people whose work would expose them to high levels of exposure to glyphosate. Hair tests, she said, are used to measure glyphosate accumulation in people like her, who have had no obvious reason to believe they’ve been exposed to the herbicide:

Basically with the hair test, it’s looking at what you would have consumed and what would have gone through your body, ended up in your bloodstream, and then was coming out in your hair as a waste product. 

Last week, Rudderham received her test results back from Health Research Institute Laboratories, an “independent, non-profit laboratory and science organization” in Iowa, which is undertaking a glyphosate environmental exposure study. 

Rudderham told the Examiner that her glyphosate level is “24 times what is deemed safe in drinking water in Europe.” She said this accumulation of the chemical must have come from food she consumes, as she does not live close to a farm or a forest where it is sprayed.

Rudderham said that although she doesn’t drink alcohol, doctors have also diagnosed her with a “fatty liver,” and that research has shown such “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is tied to glyphosate.” 

Of course, there is no way of knowing whether glyphosate has anything to do with her cancer or her liver disease. But Rudderham still feels frustrated that the province permits its widespread use, given the World Health Organization’s determination that it is a probably carcinogenic. 

She said she’s overwhelmed by the situation in the province, where the government continues to approve glyphosate spraying on the forests, and may even start to expand on it, given that the Lahey Report recommended that the government reinstate public funding for herbicide spraying on Crown land, which was stopped a decade ago by the NDP government. 

Said Rudderham:

We have a government that for years hasn’t listened to people asking for this practice [herbicide spraying] to be stopped. I am going to present my findings, my information, my knowledge and my test results to the ministers of health, of environment, and of forestry, in the hopes that they can recognize that this requires a lot more consideration. 

We hear about jobs, jobs, jobs. Well, they’re taking jobs away from people by using this cheaper and easier kind of forestry [management]. With all this noise about the loss of jobs because of the pulp mill closing down, well, here are the jobs [of managing forests manually]. 

Rudderham noted that other countries are curtailing and banning the use of glyphosate, citing the case of Mexico that will phase out its use in the next five years. 

She said she would like to see all cancer patients offered tests for anything that is a known or suspected cause, including glyphosate. She wondered why governments are not offering such tests, and speculated that they prefer not to, because if they did, they would have to “own” and act on the results that show products they endorse are causing cancer and other health problems.

Rudderham believes that any product with crops that have glyphosate exposure should be labeled, and added: 

I would like very much to know that I could find a 100% and organic pesticide-free diet for my family and me. But it’s virtually impossible because there’s no labeling, there are no warnings of any kind as to what’s in any of the products that you buy at the grocery store here in Canada, or more specifically in Nova Scotia. 

What about the wildlife?

The approval permits issued by the Nova Scotia Environment do hint at the toxicity of the glyphosate-based herbicides that are being sprayed over forest landscapes in the province. Approval holders are required, for example, to erect notices at all access points to the sites that include the warning:

There is to be no consumption of berries and fruit within this spray site(s) for the remainder of the growing season. 

There is no provision made to prevent wildlife (who obviously can’t read these notices) from grazing on berries and fruits on the sites slated for spraying. 

Retired New Brunswick wildlife biologist Rod Cumberland has argued that glyphosate, which has been repeatedly sprayed liberally on Crown land in that province, has been detrimental to the environment, the deer population, and to humans.  

And yet, in its press release about this year’s spray approvals, Environment Nova Scotia notes that “all provinces allow pesticide spraying” and assures the public that: 

Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency determines whether a product is safe for use. The province only approves pesticide spraying using chemicals that have been approved by this federal agency. 

Health Canada refuses to budge

The press release also provides a link to the Health Canada website, where it is possible to search for registered products with glyphosate as their active ingredient.

There are 202 of them currently registered with Health Canada.

In 2015, Health Canada published a re-evaluation of glyphosate for public comment, which concluded that “the products containing glyphosate do not present unacceptable risks to human health or the environment when used according to the revised product label directions.” After it released its final re-evaluation decision in 2017, it received eight notices of objection, which it reviewed. 

In January 2019, Health Canada stated that:

After a thorough scientific review, we have concluded that the concerns raised by the objectors could not be scientifically supported when considering the entire body of relevant data. The objections raised did not create doubt or concern regarding the scientific basis for the 2017 re-evaluation decision for glyphosate. Therefore, the Department’s final decision will stand.

The statement added that, “no pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed.”

Strang says even water can be toxic

Back in 2016, Nova Scotia’s Chief Public Health Officer, Robert Strang, came to the vociferous defence of the use of glyphosate. 

A press release from the province in September that year stated that: 

Glyphosate is a herbicide registered for controlling a wide variety of weeds, weedy trees and brush. Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment has approved recent applications for its use in forest operations in areas of the province.

“There is no evidence that glyphosate creates a risk to human health if used properly and if the Department of Environment is monitoring where, how, and when it is used,” said Dr. Strang. “Even water can be toxic if too much is consumed in a short period of time. The difference is between the possible hazard and the real-life risk.”

While the World Health Organization has identified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen under certain conditions and exposure, Health Canada has confirmed that glyphosate is not a risk to human health when properly applied.

A recent New Brunswick study confirmed that the product did not pose a risk in forestry applications with appropriate safeguards.

World Health Organization

Why this discrepancy between what the World Health Organization and Canada’s regulatory agencies have to say about glyphosate?

The World Health Organization offers some possible — and plausible — answers to this question, pointing out that the evaluation of glyphosate by its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is based on:

… the systemic assembly and review of all publicly available and pertinent studies, by independent experts, free from vested interests. It follows strict scientific criteria, and the classification system is recognized and used as a reference all around the world. This is because IARC evaluations are based on independent scientific review and rigorous criteria and procedures. [emphasis added]

On a Q and A page about its findings on glyphosate, the World Health Organization poses the question: 

Regulatory agencies have reviewed the key studies examined by IARC — and more — and concluded that glyphosate poses no unreasonable risks to humans. What did IARC do differently?

This is the answer: 

Many regulatory agencies rely primarily on industry data from toxicological studies that are not available in the public domain. In contrast, IARC systematically assembles and evaluates all relevant evidence available in the public domain for independent scientific review. [emphasis added]

In the interests of transparency, IARC evaluations rely only on data that are in the public domain and available for independent scientific review. The IARC Working Group’s evaluation of glyphosate included any industry studies that met these criteria. However, they did not include data from summary tables in online supplements to published articles, which did not provide enough detail for independent assessment. This was the case with some of the industry studies of cancer in experimental animals.

With the material reviewed by the Working Group, there was enough evidence to conclude that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.

Another possible explanation for the discrepancy between what the World Health Organization says and the conclusions reached by our regulatory agencies, may relate to the influence of lobbyists on lawmakers. 

In her award-winning 2017 book about Monsanto, “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science,” the research director of US Right to Know, Carey Gillam, documents in great detail how regulators have sacrificed public safety for corporate profits for agro-chemical giants, the corporate capture of regulatory agencies, and the silencing of honest researchers within those agencies. 

In an email, Gillam told the Halifax Examiner:

It is not surprising that regulators in Canada show little interest in the evidence of glyphosate dangers. Monsanto and its agrochemical industry brethren have spent decades using their money and lobbying power to build up powerful alliances within regulatory agencies around the world and to convince regulators to look away from independent science and rely instead on science created by the companies themselves. Internal documents show that within the U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], Monsanto, now owned by Bayer AG, had such influence that the company sent the agency a list of talking points for EPA officials to use when communicating glyphosate issues to the public, and enlisted agency officials to help block a critical glyphosate review by another U.S. agency. Multiple juries and multiple judges, including appeals court judges, have declared the evidence that glyphosate herbicides can cause cancer to be very strong.”

Carey Gillam’s book Whitewash, which won the 2018 Rachel Carson Book Award
Carey Gillam’s book Whitewash, which won the 2018 Rachel Carson Book Award

In her book, Gillam points out that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency did not require annual testing for glyphosate residues until after 2017, after the World Health Organization determined it was a probable carcinogen. 

She also documented how years of independent studies linked glyphosate with a wide range of serious diseases and health problems, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, chromosomal damage in blood cells, endocrine disruption, kidney or liver disease, and hormonal changes.

Gillam quotes one professor emeritus of plant pathology who told her:

Future historians may well look back on our time and write about us … how willing we were to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations based on false promises and flawed science just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.

Gillam noted that some believe glyphosate may turn out to have been worse than its poisonous predecessors  —  DDT and Agent Orange.

But for now, Health Canada continues to reassure us that glyphosate is safe, in a series of statements heavy with uncertainty and hedging. 

To wit: glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a human cancer risk,” “dietary (food and drinking water) exposure associated with the use of glyphosate is not expected to pose a risk of concern to human health,” and “when used according to revised label directions, glyphosate products are not expected to pose risks of concern to the environment.” [emphasis added]

Stacey Rudderham, for one, is not reassured. She says she is frustrated by the provincial cancer care program that, in her words:

…throws things out there about how we should reduce our cancer risks by not smoking, getting exercise, and changing our diets. I do agree, but what if what we eat and drink are toxic because of poisons that are being put on them? … It’s like they’re blaming the people of Nova Scotia for having cancer, when they’re permitting things that cause cancer.

Update:

Since the publication of this article, Nova Scotia Environment spokesperson Rachel Boomer sent this statement in response emailed questions from the Halifax Examiner:

Health Canada’s Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency determines which pesticides are safe for use in Canada. Nova Scotia Environment only approves pesticides approved by this federal agency.

Under our regulations, anyone doing aerial spraying must apply for an approval. Anyone applying pesticides in a forest, on a utility corridor or a utility right of way, on a road, street or highway, in, on or over a surface watercourse, or on an industrial or commercial site, must also receive approval.

Companies that receive approval to use pesticides are required to follow the terms and conditions of approval. Our staff audit sites at random to confirm compliance. We may also inspect a site if a complaint is filed.

Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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  1. Ms Boomer misses the point – Nova Scotians do not want the Nova Scotia Environment department to issue the approval for glyphosate at all….. We don’t need to hear about the approval process.

  2. Anyone who can watch this 30 second video of a sprayed forest in Nova Scotia and say that it does not harm the environment needs their head examined. https://www.facebook.com/282836752436441/videos/1664939563657262/ And 1,500 hectares of spraying is nothing – the Department of Lands and Forestry is currently working on a plan to allocated 333,000 hectares or 800,000 acres – equivalent to over 600,000 football fields of Crown land forest – to the forest industry for spraying glyphosate and clear cutting. That is a land base larger than the entire Bowater land purchased in 2012 for $117 million. It was instantly handed over the the private forestry to ‘manage’ or exploit. We all live ‘up stream’ the air knows no boundaries – the birds and insects do not deserve to be sprayed. We do not endorse the Lahey Report – why would we add this poison to our natural world – it’s not right for the wildlife – future generations – to have to deal with our mess. It’s time for restorative forestry. And to take care of the health of our people. Don’t we deserve that above all else?

  3. To paraphrase the professor emeritus:

    Future historians may well look back on Nova Scotia politicians and bureaucrats like Stephen McNeil, Gordon Wilson and Robert Strang and their federal counterparts and write about them…how willing they were to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations (and in Strang’s case, violate his Hippocratic Oath) based on false promises and flawed science just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.

    In other words, how willing they were to commit these obscene crimes against the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants on behalf of corporate interests and lie to their constituents while systematically poisoning them. Thanks to the work of journalists like Joan Baxter and Carey Gillam we don’t have to wait for those future historians to see how we are being betrayed and our children sacrificed by our so-called democratic representatives. Again.

  4. Horrifying march backwards from Lahey et. al. with the recommendation that government reinstate public funding FOR spraying on CROWN land a decade after the NDP stopped it. What are these nozzle heads imagining for our collective future? Pesticides are implicated not just in diseases such as cancer but also more creepy, less noticed/diagnosed ones such as Parkinson’s.

    If governments did full cost accounting or even added up the dollar cost of their subsidies to this style of extractive resource economics we would have stopped flushing our trees down the toilet or out the flyer advert loop years ago. One example is Joan’Baxter’s book “The Mill” which tallied up just some of the up to $1 billion in government subsidies to that environmental disaster. Thanks for another excellent and disturbing story. Best wishes for good health to the courageous Stacey Rudderham.