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Trees being tested for arsenic poisoning
By Joe Fries
Saturday, November 15, 2008

Testing is underway to see if thousands of trees in the Okanagan-Shuswap region contain a dangerous concentration of arsenic after being treated with a
pesticide that may pose a threat to human health.
For two decades, ending in 2004, as many as 100,000 trees throughout the Interior were treated with monosodium methane arsenate (MSMA) in a bid to stop
the spread of the pine beetle.
Also known by its trade name, Glowon, MSMA‘s active ingredient was arsenic. The product was injected into the base of trees to kill the beetles that made
homes in the wood.
Health Canada de-registered MSMA for use in 2005, when its manufacturer declined to have the product re-certified. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency de-registered the product over health concerns.
Josette Wier, a resident of Smithers, has fought for years to have her concerns about MSMA‘s “toxic legacy” made public. She said MSMA has had a
detrimental effect on woodpeckers, which feed on pine beetles, and she fears the arsenic may work its way into the food chain.
B.C.‘s Ministry of Forests is now testing arsenic levels in needles from some treated trees, and soil from around the same specimens, to determine if there is
any residual risk to humans or the environment. The tests are being conducted in two separate locations, one of which is near Merritt.
The Forest Ministry is also warning loggers and firewood cutters to avoid the treated trees, which should be clearly marked, “even though we don‘t have any
confirmed evidence that they do pose a health risk,” said Tim Ebata, a forest health specialist. “Just to be on the safe side, we are advising them not to use (the
treated trees).”
On Oct. 24, a map was posted online that depicts areas where trees were treated with MSMA. Although it does not show any landmarks, it appears to show an
abundance of trees, approximately 3,000, throughout the Okanagan Shuswap Forest District that were treated with MSMA.
Ebata said he‘s uncertain if, and how many, treated trees may have been sent to sawmills, “and that is a concern to us.”
He added, though, “In general, we don‘t feel there is a high risk to the environment or human health.”
Wier, who said she was a pediatrician in her native France, remains convinced that the MSMA treatments left behind a “poisoned forest.”
“We already know it‘s contaminating the woodpeckers. Are we next in line?” she said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the pesticide was ineligible for re-registration because “the associated tolerances do not meet the
reasonable certainty of no harm standard due to concerns for dietary and drinking water exposure to inorganic arsenic.”
Canada‘s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, a branch of Health Canada, licenses such products through its pesticide management agency, and does not
appear to share the EPA‘s concern.
“Health Canada‘s assessment up to the time of discontinuation of the product did not point to unacceptable human or environmental risks,” Philippe Laroche, a
media relations officer for the agency, wrote in an email.
“In fact, the potential risk to human health due to exposure was low, given the direct injection into trees and the personal protective equipment used by trained
applicators,” Laroche said.
Ebata doesn‘t agree with Wier‘s assertion that MSMA has left a toxic legacy.
“Right now, it‘s all speculative,” he said. “And we‘ll determine what the actual risk to human health and the environment is, after we get this new information.”
Wier places the blame at the feet of Health Canada for not acting quicker, especially after its American counterpart did.
She said she thinks the Forest Ministry‘s research, the results of which should be available in February 2009, comes too late.
“If there is arsenic in the needles of the trees and the soil, what are we going to do with that?”
Ebata said despite the seeming invincibility of the pine beetle, MSMA was effective for its intended purpose, as 80 per cent of the treated trees did not become a
host for pine beetle larvae.
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