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TruGreen Fined in New York; Dropped as Earth Day Sponsor

(Beyond Pesticides, March 22, 2010) New York State has fined TruGreen, the world’s largest professional lawn and landscape company, half a million dollars for numerous violations for misapplying pesticides and inaccurate recordkeeping, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) consent order filed last week. In related news, the unlikely sponsorship agreement between TruGreen and Earth Day Network has finally been dropped. The potential sell-out of Earth Day to TruGreen created such a backlash in the environmental community that due to a tremendous amount of pressure, Earth Day Network has retracted its sponsorship agreement with the company. Beyond Pesticides received the following statement today from Earth Day Network:

“Earth Day Network had previously announced an educational sponsorship with TruGreen in respect to organic and sustainable lawn and landscape care. Due to unanticipated events, Earth Day Network and TruGreen regrettably announce their relationship for the 40th anniversary event has been suspended. TruGreen continues to respect the commitment Earth Day Network is making to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and Earth Day Network recognizes TruGreen’s efforts on behalf of organic and sustainable lawn and land care.”

New York State is demanding a civil penalty of $400,000 be paid by TruGreen before April 15, 2010. As part of the consent order agreement, $100,000 of the civil penalty is suspended as long as TruGreen meets the requirements of the order which requires the company to retain an independent third-party auditor to conduct an Environmental Management Systems review of TruGreen statewide operations. TruGreen is then required to create and implement an Environmental Management Systems manual.

The violations took place between 2007 and 2009, with the most egregious occurring in 2009. The following are examples of the violations:
* DEC staff observed TruGreen applying pesticides pesticide when winds were between 22 and 25 mph with gusts up to 35 mph and the pesticide product label states to not apply when winds are above 5 mph;
* DEC staff observed a granular pesticide applied off target (granules were found on sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots) and the label specifically states not to apply the product off-target;
* DEC staff observed a pesticide application following rain, which created ponded water accumulation and the product label states not to appliy to water;
* DEC staff reviewed approximately six weeks of TruGreen’s pesticide application records from 2007, 2008, and 2009 and found many instances where the application records reflected the application of pesticide inconsistent with label directions;
* DEC found evidence that a weed killer and fertilizer were illegally poured down a drain in TruGreen’s Albany facility;
* DEC staff observed TruGreen on several occasions failed to properly label service containers;
* DEC staff found that TruGreen made a category 6A application (commercial application) and neither the apprentice making the application nor the supervising applicator were certified 6A applicators and there were no training records for the apprentice;
* Trugreen invoices for 2007, 2008, and 2009 failed to provide the required information or provided inaccurate information;
* TruGreen provided “free service calls” and did not amend the contracts to reflect those applications; and,
* Trugreen annual reports to DEC for 2007 and 2008 contained inaccurate information.

This is not the first time that TruGreen has been fined for misapplications. In 2006, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and Division of Consumer Affairs filed suit against TruGreen, alleging that the company violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by performing unauthorized lawn treatments in addition to other infractions. The New Jersey complaint alleged that TruGreen engaged in unconscionable commercial practices, made false promises and misrepresentations, and knowingly omitted material facts. TruGreen, is alleged to have:
* Provided lawn treatment applications not authorized by consumers;
* Renewed agreements for applications without the consumer’s knowledge or consent;
* Billed consumers for unauthorized applications;
* Charged consumers for applications that were advertised or represented as being free;
* Quoted a price above the company’s regular price and then offered a “discount price” that in fact was equal to the company’s regular price;
* Sent to collection agencies the accounts of consumers who received unauthorized treatment applications or unauthorized service renewals;
* Failed to suspend collection efforts after being informed by a consumer that a bill was unjustified;
* Failed to honor consumers’ requests to cancel treatment applications;
* Failed to respond to consumer complaints and inquiries;
* Misrepresented the actual price of treatment applications;
* Failed to notify customers of scheduled application dates as promised; and
* Failed to honor consumers’ requests for credits or refunds for unauthorized applications as promised.

Take Action!

1. Contact Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network and thank her for her decision to disallow the takeover of Earth Day by chemical-intensive lawn care companies.

2. Get involved: Refuse to Use ChemLawn is a campaign headed by Toxics Action Center and Pesticide Watch dedicated to putting pressure on TruGreen to stop using toxic pesticides. You can take the pledge here.

3. On a related matter, sign the petition to stop Major League Baseball for promoting chemical-intensive lawn care management practices through a partnership with the Scotts Company. See background and petition.


One Response to “TruGreen Fined in New York; Dropped as Earth Day Sponsor”

  1. 1
    Kagan Owens, Beyond Pesticides Says:

    The $500,000 fine covers more than 100 separate violations by TruGreen in New York alone, according to Rick Georgeson with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

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