The full Canada Press [CP] release is available below:
VICTORIA, B.C. — Years after the use of a toxic pine beetle pesticide was stopped, the B.C. government has posted no-go zones throughout the province to keep people from being exposed to potentially harmful levels of arsenic.
Questions are being asked by the province's NDP forestry critic, Bob Simpson, about why it took so long to pinpoint these forest areas.
"Why is data about our public forests so corrupt that we've been waiting four years to put this quarantine on the land base," said Simpson.
The former forest company manager said there had been a huge "backlash" over the potential immediate and long-term effects of the pesticide monosodium methanearsenate, or MSMA, in 2004.
That triggered a halt to its application in the province.
But Forests Minister Pat Bell did his best to downplay the health concerns posed by the pesticide during a conference call from China.
"The best information that we have is that there is not significant risk to human health or to animals," he said.
Bell is leading a trade mission aimed at increasing sales of B.C. lumber in China.
The B.C. Ministry of Forests has been updating its website to address public concerns about the perceived health risks of exposure to trees treated with MSMA.
The first maps showing some areas where the poison was used were posted last week.
MSMA, marketed under the name Glowon, was injected into the base of single trees, usually lodgepole pines but sometimes spruce, from the mid-1980's to 2004 in locations throughout the northern and interior parts of the province.
It was done to combat bark beetle infestations, particularly the mountain pine beetle, which has had a devastating effect on hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest land.
"There were about 100,000 trees around the province that (were) treated this way and the information we now have says let's be prudent, let's tell the public what we know. And we've done that," Bell said in the interview.
While treated spruce trees were generally felled within two weeks, the pines were usually left standing in the forest, and are now euphemistically referred to in B.C. government literature as "legacy trees."
A ministry pamphlet produced earlier this year outlines the concerns and contains instructions about identifying such trees.
They have a distinctive ring of axe marks around the base and are often marked with high-visibility plastic tape or paint.
"MSMA is an arsenical compound and recently there have been concerns that residual arsenic in legacy trees may be a risk to human health and to the well-being of the environment," the pamphlet states. "Scientific investigations will be directed towards determining the extent and validity of these concerns."
The pamphlet also warns the trees are not to be removed from the forest or burned until the results of the investigations are complete.
Simpson is upset the investigation has taken this long.
He notes it was 2004 when evidence surfaced that the poison may be getting into water systems in the Burns Lake and Vanderhoof areas of B.C.
"We should have known very shortly after 2004 what the implications are, not four years later," he said. "Who knows what hunters have been out there, the impact to wildlife, to water systems."
He wondered if cuts to government services by the B.C. Liberal administration have been too deep to be able to respond quickly to these kind of public health situations.
"I'm mostly concerned about the issue of arsenic throughout the food chain (because) we have lots of people who still use these areas for hunting and fishing and also for community watersheds."
Three years ago, the Ontario-based distributor of the chemical allowed its registration to expire, and it's no longer sold in Canada.
The chemical is still used in the United States as a lawn treatment and to mitigate insect threats to cotton crops.
For more information on this, feel free to drop by my constituency office or give us a call in Quesnel. You can find all the information to contact myself here and more from the Ministry of Forests & Range here.