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NY Attorney General Finds Widespread Pesticide Use in Low-Income Urban Housing, Schools and Parks
(from August 21, 2002)

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer released a first of its kind report that reveals widespread use of pesticides in public housing developments, schools and parks, despite the availability of less toxic methods of effective pest control. Unlike other studies, the report examines the cumulative impacts of pesticides on urban children. The report identifies a clear need for improved pest management practices that do not heavily rely on using toxic pesticides.

"Urban children spend about 90% of their time either in their homes, at school or in public parks," Spitzer said. "These places are often treated with pesticides that could threaten children's health. It is entirely possible to control pest problems without resorting to the use of toxic pesticides. With children's health at stake, managers of these facilities and residents should make every effort to eliminate pest problems without using toxic pesticides."

The Attorney General's office surveyed the pest management policies and practices for the year 2000 of various public housing developments and nearby schools and parks in Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Syracuse and Yonkers. The survey responses identify the most commonly used pesticides and the frequency of use. Local retail stores were also surveyed to determine the availability of particular pesticide products to local residents.

The report, entitled, Pest Control in Urban Housing, Parks and Schools: Children at Risk, found that:
Eight out of ten housing developments surveyed (two in each of five cities) applied pesticides inside apartments and in common areas on a regular basis, rather than limiting application to identified pest problems. This usually leads to excessive and unnecessary pesticide use and exposure.

Statewide, 69% of responding residents applied pesticides in their own homes, and one-third did so at least once a week. Many of the pesticides used are highly toxic and some are illegal in New York.

Ten of 14 responding schools reported using pesticides, and schools in New York City and Yonkers reported using restricted use pesticides (which must be applied by, or under the supervision of, a certified applicator due to their high toxicity or due to their potential to persist and accumulate in the environment).

Three parks, one in New York City and two in Yonkers, reported using herbicides for aesthetic, as opposed to public health, purposes.

Only two of the 15 institutions surveyed have adopted written pest management policies, even though clear policies are essential to an effective pest control program.

Seventy-three stores located near the surveyed public housing facilities were also surveyed, and 12 of the stores were found to be selling illegal pesticides. All 12 have signed agreements with Spitzer's office obligating them to remove the illegal products from their shelves and not sell them in the future. Additional investigations into illegal pesticide sales continue.

"Illegal pesticides not properly registered for use pose a particular concern because these products may not have been adequately tested and can be highly toxic," said Spitzer. "Retail stores that choose to sell pesticides must be aware of their legal obligation to ensure the products are properly registered."

"Children's developing organ systems are highly vulnerable to pesticides," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine and Director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Exposures of children to pesticides in the womb and during the first years after birth are linked to an increased risk of cancer and to increased risks of injury to the brain and nervous system. This path-breaking report is one of the very first to focus on pest control policies and practices that affect the cumulative pesticide exposure of urban children in the places where they spend most of their time."

"Not only is exposure to toxic chemicals dangerous and unnecessary, given the availability of alternatives, but it also represents a missed opportunity to improve the lives of public housing residents. The very steps one takes to pestproof buildings without chemicals - - such as fixing leaks and holes - - also improve the overall quality, safety, and livability of urban residences," said Audrey Thier, Pesticide Project Director at Environmental Advocates.

"The federal government has left children unprotected from pesticide exposure in homes. We are very fortunate that consumer and family advocates in the states such as Attorney General Eliot Spitzer are doing their best to arm families with information to protect themselves," said David Hahn-Baker, a Buffalo environmental advocate.

Spitzer also released brochures to inform the public about practical pest control methods that can reduce pesticide use. These brochures identify non-toxic methods, analyzed in the report, which have been used successfully to reduce pest problems more effectively than regular pesticide use, reduce costs, and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals.

"Reducing pesticide use does not mean increasing pests," said Pam Hadad-Hurst, Executive Director of the New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. "We have identified proven techniques to eliminate pests without using toxic pesticides."

Legislation pending in both houses of the State Legislature (Assembly bill 1746/Senate bill 6335) would establish an urban pesticide board to make recommendations to reduce the amount of pesticides used in urban areas and require certified pesticide applicators to demonstrate a knowledge of non-pesticidal pest control methods.

"Our findings are cause for concern," said Spitzer. "The high frequency of pesticide applications in urban areas merits a closer examination by those interested in children's health. I welcome the Legislature's interest in this issue and urge lawmakers to pass Assembly bill1746/Senate bill 6335."

The report was prepared in the Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau by Chief Scientist Michael H. Surgan, Ph.D., Policy Analyst Thomas Congdon, Science Aides Christine Primi, Stephanie Lamster and Jennifer Louis-Jacques, and Bureau Chief Peter H. Lehner. For more information, see www.oag.state.ny.us or call (518) 473-5525 or see the report: Study Finds Widespread Pesticide Use In The Homes, Schools And Parks Of Low-Income Urban Children.

Source: New York Attorney General's Office at State Capitol, Albany, New York.