The Ontario government should move quickly to pass a promised, province-wide ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides, a coalition of environmental activists and health professionals urged Tuesday.

The group of environmentalists, doctors and nurses said Ontario should follow Quebec's lead and pass the ban this year.

"Such a measure would not only protect the health of everyone in Ontario, including family pets and wildlife, it will also improve the quality of our soil, air and drinking water," Susan Koswan, of Pesticide Free Ontario, said during a news conference at the legislature.

Health professionals say pesticides cause diseases such as cancer and birth defects, and the chemicals are especially harmful to children.

"Children's young bodies are still developing and their organs and tissues are more vulnerable to harm," said Doris Grinspun of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario.

"Children absorb and retain more harmful toxins than adults and they have a longer time ahead of them for exposure to pesticides and to develop resulting health problems."

Jan Kasperski, CEO of the College of Family Physicians, said the long-term effects of exposure to pesticides can be devastating, and it can also lead to learning disabilities.

"What we're calling for now is to ensure that while we recognize that these toxins are causing harm, that we reduce the exposures as much as possible, and don't wait 40 years for the evidence to gather in the same way we did with tobacco," Kasperski said.

Some municipalities in the province, including Toronto and St. Catharines, have already passed their own bylaws restricting the use of pesticides on lawns. But the coalition says only 40 per cent of Ontario residents are protected under such bans.

Environmentalists say Ontario needs to replace a patchwork of local bylaws banning pesticides with province-wide legislation, along with a public awareness campaign.

Premier Dalton McGuinty promised legislation to prohibit the use of pesticides during last fall's election campaign.

The group also wants a ban on the sale of pesticides and fertilizers in retail stores. The coalition says if such legislation were passed, Ontario would have the most progressive pesticide laws in the world.

The coalition says it doesn't object to exemptions for farmers and golf courses, as long as golf course operators develop plans to reduce their use of pesticides.

The coalition conducted a public opinion survey, which found 71 per cent of Ontarians would support the idea of a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss and files from The Canadian Press