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From May 10, 2006                                                                                                        

Rochester Mother Says Lawn Care Company is Skirting Pesticide Law
(Beyond Pesticides, May 10, 2006)
A Rochester mother’s efforts to protect her children from toxic pesticides has spurred Rochesterians Against the Misuse of Pesticides (RAMP) to file an official complaint with the Monroe County Department of Public Health. RAMP has also contacted the Attorney General's office after the family was not properly notified according to the county’s new Neighbor Notification Law.

Dina Stein doesn't expect her neighbors to refrain from using lawn pesticides — that's their right, she says. But this Brighton mother wants the choice to shield her children, Emma, 4, and Sam, 2, from unnecessary exposure. She thought that's what the county's new neighbor notification law provided, and she fully expected to receive a letter from a lawn care company at least once this spring. But when a company showed up to spray her neighbor's lawn last week, claiming that a small orange plastic flag spiked into the edge of her lawn a month ago constituted prior notification, Mrs. Stein was shocked.

Mrs. Stein and her husband hadn't even noticed the flag, which looks very much like the small pinkish flags marking a utility project on their street. Some friends told her of receiving postcards with their mail or coming home to packets of information hanging from their doorknob — notification from different companies.
"That really irritated me, that some people are getting notified and some aren't," Mrs. Stein said. "I would just like to get a letter."

This is the first gardening season since Monroe County voted to enforce an optional state pesticide notification law, which requires that commercial lawn care companies provide neighbors with written notice at least 48 hours before applying pesticides, as well as laying out new duties for homeowners and pesticide retailers.
Bob Ottley, owner of One Step Tree & Lawn Care in North Chili — the company that sprayed near Stein's home — said the notice, though printed on a flag, provides all the information required by the law: the pesticide's name and federal registration data, his company's telephone number, and the potential dates for pesticide spraying.

When Mrs. Stein called to complain, the company brought her a duplicate copy of the notice and delayed spraying, ultimately treating the lawn while her children played indoors. Mrs. Stein said that when she called, a member of Mr. Ottley's staff also offered to add her to a telephone notification list.

The law, however, requires written notice. While it's fine to leave a letter or other information at someone's door, the flag strategy doesn't seem to accomplish the law's intent, said Dr. Andy Doniger, director of the Monroe County Health Department.

Judith Enck, of the Attorney General's office, said that she doesn't believe the flags meet the spirit or the letter of the neighbor notification law.

"The guy gets extra points for creativity, but he's flirting with a fine," Enck said.

The county hasn't yet looked into the Stein case. In fact, no enforcement actions — be they against lawn care companies, retailers or homeowners — have been taken since the law went into effect in January, Dr. Doniger said.

Calls have been constant on the county's hotline, some reporting what they believed to be a lack of proper notification, but most with questions about the law. Many callers don't realize that a tank truck bearing the name of a lawn care company may be applying fertilizers or granular pesticide, neither of which trigger neighbor notification. Others know that homeowners are required to post signs if they apply most pesticides but don't realize that gardeners are exempt from giving their neighbors prior notice.

Educational efforts in recent weeks are just beginning to have the desired effect, Dr. Doniger said. Spot inspections indicate that pesticide retailers and homeowners are posting a lot more signs.

Lawn care professionals, many of whom complain of higher costs and frustrated customers as a result of the new law, aren't so convinced.

Laurie Broccolo of Broccolo Tree & Lawn Care in Henrietta said that her system of mailing postcards using addresses from a county database is working fairly well. However, productivity is down because her staff has spent a lot of time educating customers and struggling to schedule jobs so that everyone receives proper notice.

The notice is all that homeowners like Mrs. Stein are asking for.

"My son is at the age where everything goes into his mouth ... when we see the (pesticide) signs we stay away," Mrs. Stein said. "I'm just trying to protect my kids' health."