Application Forces Closing of Hospital Emergency Room
(Beyond Pesticides, August 2, 2006) A deadly rain of pigeons fell out of the sky in Schenectady, New York, on Thursday evening, after a pesticide application, forcing the closing of a local hospital emergency room.. According to ABC News, Ellis Hospital had contracted with a pest control company to dispose of a growing pigeon population on the roof of the hospital. The pigeons and their droppings posed a health hazard and a nuisance. The company, Rentokil, Inc., applied the avian pesticide Avitrol on July 28 in a mixture of corn and birdseed. The pesticide was supposed to poison a few birds whose erratic behavior and death would frighten off the rest of the flock. Instead, it caused twenty-eight pigeons to be killed and fall from the sky around the Ellis Hospital emergency room. "Birds were coming down like dive bombers," according to Fire Chief Robert Farstad.
The birds were noticed by local firefighters at the hospital for an unrelated reason; it was soon clear that they had been poisoned and steps had to be taken to protect citizens. The Albany Times Union reports that the roads were closed in a one-block radius around the hospital to prevent pigeons from damaging cars and windshields. Further, the Emergency Room was closed to ambulance traffic from 9 to 11 p.m. and ambulances were diverted to other hospitals. It continued to remain open for walk-ins and current patients.
Emergency workers spent hours searching the hospital grounds for dead birds and putting them into red hazardous waste bags. Afterwards, workers were examined to make sure they were not harmed by the pesticide. Several other people were also decontaminated following the incident, but no reports of illness or injury have been heard so far. G. Jack Parisi, director of environmental health for Schenectady County, reported that several dead pigeons were taken to the DEC wildlife pathology lab for analysis. The remaining bodies were incinerated at a nearby animal shelter.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is looking into the possibility that the Avitrol was misapplied by Rentokil Inc. Rentokil issued a statement on Friday that the pesticide was applied according to regulations by an experienced and licensed applicator. The company plans to cooperate with the investigation. Avitrol has been banned in New York City but remains controversially legal in other parts of the state, and this incident has only fanned the flames.
Audubon New York states that, “Avitrol can cause the deaths of birds of prey, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks if they ingest carcasses of poisoned birds,” and has urged state officials to ban the pesticide and advocate alternative pigeon control. The Albany Times Union reports that the hospital had attempted alternatives such as loud noises and nest disposal before it turned to Avitrol, but has currently halted the application of the pesticide while reconsidering pigeon control methods. Audubon New York suggests the attachment of metal spikes to the pigeon roofing area, eliminating the place where they congregate, rather than using a poison such as Avitrol.