Press Statement of Beyond Pesticideson Filing of Lawsuit Against New York City for Threatening Public Health and Safety with the West Nile Virus Mosquito Spray Program
Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP) is a national environmental organization, based in Washington, DC, with members in New York, that advocates for public protection from pesticides and promotes safer pest management practices.
The City of New York's massive spraying of pesticides to control mosquitoes in the West Nile Virus control program threatens public health and safety. In joining this lawsuit, we are telling the court that the city's program last year violated several federal state and local statutes intended to protect public health and the environment. And, we are asking the judge to make sure the City stops these practices.
Since West Nile Virus emerged last year, it has been clear that pesticide safety issues were low on the city's agenda. Mayor Guiliani is on record as saying last September, "There's no point in not spraying, because there's no harm in spraying. So even if we're overdoing it, there's no risk to anyone in overdoing it." We are here today to tell the Mayor and city officials that pesticides are hazardous, very hazardous, and that their failure to follow the law has put the health of millions of people and the environment at serious risk.
Just today in the Washington Post, there is a picture of a truck spraying pesticides on Staten Island right next to a child riding a bicycle in the street. Yet, the label for the synthetic pyrethroid AnvilTM (sumithrin and piperonyl butoxide/PBO) being used says, "Harmful if absorbed through the skin." It warns, "IF ON SKIN OR CLOTHING: Remove contaminated clothing and wash before reuse." The World Health Organization explains (Environmental Health Criteria 96, d-Phenothrin) that, "Synthetic pyrethroids are neuropoisons acting on the axons in the peripheral and central nervous systems by interacting with sodium channels in mammals and/or insects." Many synthetic pyrethroids have been linked to disruption of the endocrine system, which can adversely affect reproduction and sexual development, increase chances of breast cancer, and interfere with the immune system. The chemical used last year, malathion, has serious nervous system and environmental effects and has been linked by a senior EPA scientist to cancer effects. In addition to these pesticides being sprayed on people in violation of the pesticide label, they have been sprayed or drifted over water and threaten critical environmental habitat.
The critical point that has been lost on city officials in the management of West Nile Virus is that pesticides are poisons. Because they are poisons, officials are charged with ensuring that laws, specifically intended to protect the public and the environment, are not violated.
We understand that people are concerned about the West Nile Virus. We also know that people are concerned about the widescale spraying of pesticides and the associated public health and environmental hazards. We believe that measures can be taken to protect people without poisoning them, but the City must start with simple compliance with the law.