Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: Times Beacon Record

Call to ban three pesticides

DEC preparing management plan for public review


Posted: February 23, 2012
Originally Published: February 8, 2012

As the state Department of Environment Conservation prepares its Long Island Pesticide Use Management Plan for public review and input, possibly as early as this month, the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment is urging the agency to ban three of the most prevalent of 123 contaminants found in the region's groundwater, according to a draft of the plan.

Of those three pesticides, Metalaxyl, Imidacloprid and Atrazine, the first was found 1,292 times in 727 wells between 2001 and 2010; the second, 782 times in 182 wells; and the third, 126 times in 88 wells in the same time frame, according to the DEC.

Pesticides found in groundwater above allowable levels can be dangerous to fish, wildlife and people. The CCE reports that Imidacloprid, which is toxic to marine life, is limited to 50 parts per billion according to state drinking water standards, but has been detected as high as 407 ppb in Long Island wells.

Studies suggest that some pesticides may cause health and environmental effects even at or below standard amounts, the CCE reports. For example, a 2010 study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey observed substantial adverse reproductive effects on fish from Atrazine exposure at concentrations below the EPA water-quality guideline.

With the support of 23 local groups, CCE Director Adrienne Esposito has written to the DEC arguing for an immediate ban to protect Long Island's sole source aquifer. The aquifer consists of three layers of rock underlying Nassau and Suffolk counties from which groundwater can be extracted through wells. Long Islanders rely on the Glacial and Magothy levels for most of their freshwater needs. The Lloyd layer is largely untapped.

With 13,355 pesticide products registered for use in New York, the DEC has already prohibited 350 of those from use on the Island, the agency's spokesman Bill Fonda said.

"The DEC has historically taken a more conservative or restrictive approach to pesticide use on Long Island than elsewhere in the state out of concern to protect the sole source aquifer," said the DEC's regional director Peter Scully.

The state is working with the both counties and other government and nongovernment stakeholders to develop a strategy for managing pesticides while balancing that with the need to manage pests. One result of the effort could be stricter regulation of pesticides in the region, Scully said.

The idea for a pesticide management plan for Long Island stemmed from the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Peconic Estuary, where the impact of pesticides on surface water was a concern, Scully said.

In formulating a plan for all of Long Island, the DEC looked at Suffolk County Department of Health Services' groundwater data from the past decade and convened a technical advisory committee of 26 representatives from environmental organizations, government agencies and the agricultural community, including the Long Island Farm Bureau, to review the information and give input.

Esposito, whose agency is on the advisory committee, said the Pesticide Use Management Plan constitutes a comprehensive collection of information that lets people know the condition of their drinking water with regard to pesticides.

The CCE's overarching goal is for zero tolerance of toxic pesticides entering Long Island groundwater.

"The DEC has special regulatory powers that allow them to preserve and protect the aquifer," Esposito said. "We're hoping that the DEC will fulfill their mandate of protecting our aquifer. Right now, the DEC's policy has failed. What's failed is that the DEC has not acted quickly and has not protected drinking water. Allowing for consistent and numerous pesticide contaminants has failed that mandate. With 123 contaminants, clearly this is not a protective policy. This should have been prevented but we're happy that they're looking at it now. We have to get this right."

In response, Scully said providing for broader authority so the DEC may review existing pesticide product registrations is one possibility that would be suggested in the plan.

He also acknowledged that his agency has received numerous letters from citizens supporting CCE's call to ban the top three most prevalent pesticides and "those letters are being reviewed and considered."

The public comment period on the draft Long Island Pesticide Use Management Plan could open as early as this month on the DEC's website, www.dec.ny.gov, Scully said. It's unclear whether the comment period would be open for 30 or 60 days and whether any public meetings would be involved, he added. However, anyone who wants to submit comments may do so in writing to the DEC.

Among the local environmental advocates who support CCE's campaign are county legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

Hahn, who is chair of Suffolk's environmental committee, said, "If these three pesticides are showing up in our drinking water in amounts that could be detrimental to ecological systems or for public health, then the [state] Legislature should seriously consider banning them. I would like to see the science presented and the discussion had; that's a good start."

Anker said, "As a mom, it's priceless. You'll do anything to protect your children." She added, "No matter what we do now, there will always be something in our groundwater. But pesticides should not be released into the environment if we know the chemical causes health problems. ... Now we know better. We've learned from our mistakes."

A separate campaign
Apart from what happens with the draft Long Island Pesticide Use Management Plan, Dix Hills resident Dennis Glassberg and his grassroots organization, www.MillionsofVoters.org, has put on hold its 2010-11 campaign urging Suffolk to ban all pesticides for "cosmetic use," such as lawn care, in the county.

"The Suffolk County legislators — most of them blew smoke in our face, others were well-meaning," Glassberg said.

Though the county attorney informed him that only the state has authority to ban pesticides, Glassberg takes heart from trailblazers like Huntington Town. Its ban of pesticide use on private property was knocked down by a court in 1973 but nonetheless brought attention to the issue. "That was the game plan: pass it and make an issue of it, even if it's overturned," he said.

As for petitioning state legislators in the cause, he said, "It's a losing battle unless you have enough people to make a stand in the polls. We need a lot more people to participate. It takes thousands of emails to make [state leaders] move. But we believe that the momentum is in our favor and that we will prevail. I much prefer to prevail in the short run than the long run."

For the time being, MillionsofVoters.org is trying to organize coalitions across the country in planning either a national march on Washington, D.C., or marches on the offices of federal elected officials in each state this spring, he said.

"Banning pesticides is urgent for children primarily and adults secondarily," Glassberg said, and in noting that's only one of the items on his group's agenda, added, "but so is health care for everybody and jobs for people to survive and afford organic food."