“A drop of water in the pool”: information and engagement of linguistic communities around a municipal pesticide bylaw to protect the public’s health

by Hilary Gibson-Wood

Pesticide UseGiving people the opportunity to be involved in decisions that affect their environment and their health, and providing communities with information about public health issues that is accessible and relevant to them, are important ways to help protect public health.

This is especially true for a city like Toronto, a city that largely defines itself by its ethnic and cultural diversity. However, many newcomers to Canada – as well as long-standing minority populations – face health and socio-economic inequalities, and significant obstacles to open communication between minority communities and government also exist.

The aim of the Multicultural Yard Health and Environment Project (MYHEP) was to find out more about how culturally-specific perceptions and practices around one specific environmental health issue – pesticides – might influence the relevance of municipal public health information and community engagement strategies, and the overall effectiveness of Toronto’s Pesticide Bylaw in protecting the public’s health. This case study provides more general insight into how inequities in environmental health may come about, and strategies to ensure environmental health justice for all.

The MYHEP project asked Cantonese- and Spanish-speaking residents in Toronto about their opinions on pesticide use and regulation, what they thought about Toronto’s Bylaw and the way it was being enforced, and how they felt about information from Toronto Public Health about pesticides and the Bylaw. Our project participants reported a need for more accessible environmental health messaging, and we found out that there was confusion about safety and legality of pesticide products available for sale in Toronto stores. Most participants also told us they were unwilling to make formal complaints about neighbours who were not complying with the pesticides Bylaw – this was especially important to know since formal complaints were a key way of enforcing the Bylaw.

Our study’s results indicated that environmental health communication and engagement strategies need to be more carefully tailored to address local socio-cultural and linguistic contexts, so that all residents’ health is equitably protected by public health initiatives. Our project findings helped Toronto Public Health to adapt its efforts in order to better engage different communities about environmental health issues that affect them.

Link to “open access” research article: “A drop of water in the pool”

Critical Public HealthAuthors: Hilary Gibson-Wood, Sarah Wakefield, Loren Vanderlinden, Monica Bienefeld, Donald Cole, Jamie Baxter & Leslie Jermyn

Link to: Toronto’s pesticide bylaw