Activists File Lawsuit Seeking Halt to Pesticide Spraying in Light of Threats to Health and Safety, and Legal Violations

Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
202-543-5450 (voice), 202-543-4791 (fax)
[email protected]

July 20, 2000
  Contact: Jay Feldman or John Kepner

(NEW YORK, July 20, 2000) ­ Environmental activists filed suit against the City of New York in federal court today for violations of federal and state environmental statutes in the city's mosquito-control pesticide-spray program. Activists charge the city with engaging in the unlawful discharge of toxic chemicals into and over air, land and waters around New York City, which has put the health of residents at serious risk and threatens critical environmental wildlife habitat. They have asked the court to stop the spraying because it threatens the health and safety of residents of New York and has been done in violation of the approved labels and the law.

The suit lists a series of violations associated with the 1999 spraying in which hazardous insecticides were sprayed from helicopters and trucks. This week, the city was to begin truck spraying of a hazardous pesticide in Staten Island. Activists tie the pesticides in use at the time and proposed for use this season to dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, skin irritation, loss of coordination, twitching and seizures, as well as delayed long-term neurotoxic effects, including optic and peripheral neuropathy. The pesticides may also be a cause of breast cancer.

The suit is being brought by the New York City-based NoSpray Coalition, Disabled in Action, Save Organic Standards-NY, the National Preparedness Network and the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. Also on the suit as plaintiffs are city residents Robert Lederman, Valerie Sheppard, Eva Yaa Asantewaa and Mitchel Cohen.

According to the lawsuit, wind currents caused pesticides to drift or were directly sprayed over water bodies of New York City, accumulating in the city's waters and sediments, harming aquatic invertebrates and aquatic life stages of amphibians, fish, shellfish, and other organisms. Also stated as a concern is the impact of the spraying on critical environmental habitats for birds, including migratory and uncommon species.

The lawsuit charges violations of the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the State Environmental Quality Review Act and the City Environmental Quality Review regulations. The plaintiffs allege that the city failed to apply for the appropriate permits, neglected to conduct Environmental Impact Statements, and violated pesticide product label restrictions under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the federal pesticide-control law. "The spraying continued without concern for risk to people with asthma or compromised immune systems," said Eva Yaa Asantewaa, a Plaintiff and board member of the NoSpray Coalition. "Our neighborhoods have a very high number of both, particularly among people of color."

Due to pressure from anti-pesticide activists, the city has been forced to stop future use of malathion, but intends to spray Staten Island with sumithrin. Sumithrin and resmithrin, another pesticide used by the city, are pyrethroids. Inhaling pyrethroid insecticides can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, runny or stuffy nose, chest pain, or difficulty breathing. Skin contact can cause a rash, itching, or blisters. According to Mitchel Cohen, of the No Spray Coalition and the Brooklyn Greens, "The brand of sumithrin used by the city, Anvil, includes piperonyl butoxide, which can cause skin and eye irritation. All the health effects of this chemical have not been fully researched, but pyrethroids could be a cause of breast cancer ­ laboratory tests have indicated the disruption of the endocrine system by mimicking the effects of the female sex hormone estrogen."

Without having studied the environmental impacts and without having set up provisions for enabling people to report medical problems, the city government began a massive aerial and ground pesticide-spray program last September and has not ruled out a resumption of that program for this year.

Jay Feldman, executive director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization, said, "The city has overstepped the boundaries of safety and law in the handling of its mosquito prevention and management program, exposing the public to hazardous pesticides."

Counsel in the case are Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic and New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. Defendants named in the suit include the City of New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Department of Health of the City of New York, City Health Commissioner Neal Cohen, the Office of Emergency Management of the City of New York and former OEM Commissioner Jerome Hauer.