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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says he hopes a new ban on the sale and use of lawn and garden pesticides will allow children to again roll around on the grass.

"Our generation has taken to the cosmetic use of pesticides and I think, perhaps unwittingly, not fully understanding the dangers it represents to ourselves and, most importantly, to our children," he told a news conference in the back yard of a mid-Toronto home.

"It's the right of kids to play in the grass .. without compromising their health."

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The new law, which is expected to come into effect next spring, would prohibit 80 chemicals and 300 products that experts say pose a potential health risk. Quebec earlier enacted a similar ban.

It would overtake a patchwork of municipal laws dealing with pesticide use that currently affect 44 per cent of the population. A ban on the use of pesticides went into effect in Toronto last September.

The Premier said the provincial law goes further by banning the sale of pesticides.

"It will be the new standard," he said. "No one will be able to have standards lower than ours."

The new measures would not apply to farms, golf courses or managed forests.

The proposed ban was welcomed by Hirotaka Yamashiro, chair of the Ontario Medical Association pediatrics section. He said pesticide use has been linked to skin irritations and the concern is that long-term exposure would leak to increased rates of childhood cancer.

He admitted that "we probably don't know the full effect at this point" but "it's always better to err on the side of caution."

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Crop Life Canada, the trade association representing the country's pesticide manufacturers, said it supported the legislation in principle but said it wasnted more emphasis on science. Association president Lorne Hepworth said the products about to be banned have been approved for use by Health Canada.

"Let's focus on eliminating improper or unnecessary use, not the products themselves," he said. "Our goal is to help the Ontario government develop measures to ensure these products are only used when necessary and then safely and responsibly by homeowners." Environment Minister John Gerretsen agreed that federal regulators have declared pesticides to pose an acceptable risk but he argued that assessing individual products is inadequate.

"What nobody has done any studies on is the cumulataive impact of different products that are being use at the same time," he said. "That's where the risk to young people comes."

Carolyn Livingston, the homeowner who lent her back yard for the event, praised the new legislation.

"Children should be able to roll in the grass without us being concerned about picking up poisons," she said, holding her two-year-old daughter, Anna, in her arms.

The Premier dismissed the suggestion that consumers would stockpile pesticides in anticipation of next spring's ban.

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"People understand why we're doing this," he said. "In my opinion, this is going to be very well received and people will seek to do the right thing."

Big-box retailer Home Depot said today that it will voluntarily stop selling pesticides and herbicides across Canada by the end of 2008.

Mr. McGuinty timed his announcement yesterday to commemorate the annual Earth Day celebration. He defended his decision to drive to the event, which is a 15-minute walk from his house.

"We generally move around by car and you'll note that [the vehicle]is a hybrid," he said.

Quebec ended the cosmetic use of pesticides in 2006 by prohibiting the residential application and sale of 20 active pesticide ingredients found in lawn-care products.

The main impact of this action was to practically eliminate sales to homeowners of the popular lawn herbicide known as 2,4-D, which kills broad leaf weeds, such as dandelions.

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Quebec phased in its ban over three years to allow consumers to get used to using fewer pesticides, but Ontario is expected to have a much shorter period before the restriction is fully in place.

The province is also expected to list more active pesticide ingredients than Quebec.

Other than the two provinces, many communities in Canada have banned the use of pesticides. The David Suzuki Foundation estimates the number of communities at about 140.

With a report from Martin Mittelstaedt

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