TORONTO, Canada - Toronto homeowners and lawn care operators could soon be allowed to spray herbicides on lawns because two city council committees have fundamentally watered down a new pesticide bylaw. In a 6-5 vote, councillors opted to allow residents to use chemicals if the amount of weeds on their lawns reaches as little as 5 percent of the total area. The decision, at a joint meeting of the works and economic development and parks committees, essentially takes the teeth out of this controversial bylaw. Last night's decision will go to city council for final approval later this month, "It will be business as usual for pesticide spraying in Toronto," said Shelley Petrie, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, which had lobbied hard for a stiff bylaw. "We will not reduce pesticide spraying by even 1 percent or 1 litre of pesticides in this city," she told reporters after the vote. The proposal allows for spraying if weeds cover 5 percent to 10 percent of private lawns, golf clubs, lawn bowling clubs, cemeteries and irrigated sports fields. Petrie urged city councillors to adopt the tougher recommendations from the Toronto board of health that call for no spraying of weeds on private property. "Dandelions do not cause cancer. However, pesticides do. It's a simple as that," she said. Councillor Case Ootes (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth), who put forward the motions to allow for the spot spraying, said reason must prevail. "There are all sorts of risks in life. Five thousand people are killed by cars each year, but we're not going to ban cars," Ootes said. "I think we have to take a balanced approach here. There is an economic impact (of a blanket pesticide ban). There is an impact on jobs." Lorraine Van Haastrecht, who represents lawn care operators, was pleased with yesterday's vote. "This means that the city of Toronto can reduce the use of pesticides responsibly," she said. The city's controversial pesticide bylaw, which the chemical companies fought tooth and nail, was approved in principle last May after a long, drawn-out emotional debate. It officially went into effect in April with a focus on public education, allowing residents to use organic treatment methods. Letters of caution would first be issued before $255 fines are issued starting in September, 2005. As part of a compromise motion to get the bylaw passed last year, council never made a decision on when pesticides or herbicides could be used in exceptional cases of a weed or pest infestation. Over the past few months, city staff studied the matter and recommended at the joint committee meeting last night that herbicides be banned altogether on private property. Councillor Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre), who supported an outright ban, wanted to see a tougher stance, arguing it's the job of councillors to be out in front in these areas. More than 70 people appeared before the councillors yesterday, speaking passionately on both sides of the issue. Sandy Bentley, a Toronto homeowner, argued she has worked hard to cultivate a beautiful lawn and doesn't want it turned into a weedy mess. "My lawn is too big to get on my knees to weed it."