To treat or not to treat…the ash trees

The question facing every municipality

By Rhonda Massad

The relentless emerald ash borer (EAB) insect has been found in several West Island communities. The struggle for every city and borough has been to develop a strategy to limit the devastating impact of the EAB that could wipe out all ash trees over the next ten years.

The strategies taken on by many cities include an inventory of public and private ash trees, which trees to cut down and which to treat with the pesticide TreeAzin which is not a cure but a preventative treatment that needs to be reapplied indefinitely.

TreeAzin the most widely used product available in Canada, is produced by the BioForest company from the extract of neem seeds. The neem tree, found in tropical and semi-tropical regions, produces a fruit and seeds that are the source of neem oil which can be found in many household products such as soaps and cosmetics.

According to the National Research Council of Canada, BioForest was launched by a small band of government forestry scientists who left their jobs with the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) in the mid-1990s. Among them was Joe Meating, now president of BioForest.

Meating worked with a CFS research scientist who had been developing the promising new organic pesticide. BioForest ultimately signed a license agreement with Natural Resources Canada and CFS to register, market and sell the new pesticide, TreeAzin, along with its unique micro-injection method for applying the pesticide, the Ecojet System.

According Jason Gasparetto, technical specialist at BioForest, unlike chemical insecticides, it works on the insect’s hormonal system, not on the digestive or nervous system and does not lead to development of resistance in future generations. TreeAzin is a systemic insecticide, therefore is not sprayed like some insecticides but injected directly into the sapwood.

“In my opinion the residue left behind from the injection of several hundred thousand trees on the island of Montreal would not be significant to harm a human,” Gasparetto explained in an interview with The Suburban, “testing has shown that to harm a human it would take up to two liters to cause any damage.”

The TreeAzin label quotes that it is toxic to aquatic organisms. It is also toxic to bee brood. The product is systemic and is transported upwards through the tree. Bees may be exposed to residues in floral pollen or nectar resulting from tree injections. Applications to hardwood trees must be made post bloom.

According to Gasparetto this pesticide is deemed a class four or least harmful by the Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), responsible for pesticide regulation in Canada.

“The product was put through the wringer before being graded a class four which is the least harmful of the pesticides,” he continued,” but that is like saying you as a human are least harmful because you have never been charged with a crime, they are all horrible and this is the least horrible.”

To accentuate the difficult position municipalities are facing across the country, Serge Lussier, associate director and academic adviser of the Farm Management and Technology Program at Macdonald Campus of McGill University, weighed in during an electronic mail exchange with The Suburban.

“No solution is without risk or potential adverse effects but TreeAzin has been deemed by the PMRA to be a low risk pesticide when applied according to the label,” Lussier explained, “moreover, the only other solution currently available seems to be the widespread removal of the trees and their eventual replacement with other species, an unacceptable alternative as far as I am concerned.”

In 2013, a study done for the U.S. government and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine established a correlation between the presence of the EAB and an increase in deaths attributable to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. On average, the researchers witnessed 23.5 more deaths per 100,000 residents after the borer passed through a given area.
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