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A Chemical Reaction is a fabulous documentary film about a dermatologist in Canada who successfully campaigned to ban the use of pesticides in her small town. Against all odds, she spent years documenting the ill effects of pesticide exposure on her patients and lobbying her local town council to ban pesticides. This story is proof that a grassroots effort fueled by one passionate woman can change the course of a nation.

The movie points out that a green lawn represents the American Dream; a beautiful lawn is a powerful status symbol. Following a 4- step chemical program for lawn beautification is a tradition passed down from father to son. But our lawns are also where the environment meets peoples’ lives. Our children and pets spend hours in intimate contact with our grass and dirt, and then they track it into our homes. It needs to be healthy and safe.

Needless to say, the battle that ensued when the ban was enacted reached historic proportions. The cased ended up in the Supreme Court of Canada. The lawn chemical companies could not let it stand. But they lost!  The court wisely decided that chemicals should not be assumed to be safe until proven dangerous, but rather, the government has an obligation to err on the side of caution in order to protect the public good.  Thus, the Precautionary Principle became law in Canada.

This landmark approach is gathering steam in the United States. The US EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has directed her agency to take a more precautionary approach regarding chemical regulations. Just yesterday, the National Cancer Institute Cancer Panel, a mainstream panel made up of George Bush appointees, issued a report saying that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. They recommend that the United States take a precautionary approach rather than the reactionary approach currently employed.

In spite of this progress, the film informs us that the lawn chemical industry lobbyists have already gotten pre-emption laws passed in 41 states in order to ensure that no towns can pass laws stricter than state laws. This prohibits towns from passing a ban like the one in Canada that sparked the national backlash against lawn chemicals. A Chemical Reaction is inspiring and informative, but likley to leave you uneasy when you consider what we are up against in the United States when it comes to chemical regulation.
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