Pesticide overuse continues in counties across the state

A recent lawsuit against the Rye Golf Club in Westchester has drawn attention from the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit caused a shutdown of the course, and further investigation revealed another troubling finding about the region’s mass pesticide usage.

Information released shows that New York has had a drastic increase in pesticide use, with amounts increasing to just under 25 million pounds applied in 2010 (the most recent year from which data are available) across golf courses, the agricultural industry, homes, and parks. The effects of these toxic pesticides cause a threat to public health to workers handling them, as well as those regularly exposed to them through recreational activities.

The problem, while highlighted in Westchester by an exposé in the Journal News, is actually an issue statewide.  Suffolk County far and away ranks highest in pesticide usage, with over 5 million pounds of pesticides applied throughout 2010. Next are Monroe County, which includes Rochester, and Westchester, both with just over 2.2 million pounds.  Unfortunately, more recent data is unavailable, as the DEC is currently backlogged tracking down companies that have either improperly or illegibly recorded their pesticide data.

The issue, originally discovered at the Rye Golf Club, has led to a full-blown investigation bringing in the U.S. EPA, discussing the discovery of illegal pesticide sales at Rye, as well as commenting on the improper data entry made by companies across the state. Despite criticism, U.S. EPA’s regional administrator for New York stated, “The EPA takes the regulation of pesticides seriously, and if pesticides are improperly applied it can severely damage health and the environment. There’s just so much product that is used every day that we are not everywhere.” The findings show that Rye, along with over 900 other golf courses in New York are improperly applying pesticides, and have little government oversight.

Also referenced is the lawsuit relating to the death of a golf course worker who regularly handled the pesticides, after his cancer – leading to his death – was linked to the pesticides.  Lawyers on the case have commented that pesticide related cases are similar to those of cigarettes and asbestos, and are growing in popularity.

With all downsides to pesticide use, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has emerged as a promising alternative.  New York State’s Integrated Pest Management (eNYSIPM) program is run in conjunction with Cornell University, and is geared towards using natural, pesticide-free methods to rid your garden, golf-course, farm, and parks from pests without the public health risks.

As the Cornell University program describes it: “IPM is integrated because it brings together, or integrates, a range of biological, organic, cultural, mechanical, and chemical options for pest problems. And it’s about management because you can only manage pests—you can’t eliminate them, no matter what people say. Although IPM used to focus on insect pests, the range now includes fungi, bacteria, viruses, weeds, wildlife, and more.”

Through NYSIPM, customers are provided with cost-effective, and healthier, more natural ways to manage issues they have with pests.  These can be small scale, such as keeping plants and lawns healthy, or caulking or barricading cracks and holes to reduce the access pests will have, to larger scale recommendations, such as promoting biodiversity and creating natural barriers that pests are not likely to navigate through, properly rotate crops to help keep the soil healthy and less-prone to pests.

In addition to the state’s program, the DEC has also issued a pamphlet providing a quick look into IPM, and how to protect your home from pests without putting your health at risk.  Such recommendations include keeping your home clean and in good repair, with proper inspections; growing pest-resistant shrubs, especially surrounding the ones that are more likely to be invaded; and to dispose of and destroy diseased plants away from your garden or lawn.

We hope these troubling revelations about misuse and overapplication of pesticides will only further the movement toward IPM.