Pesticides and New York’s Wetlands

Pesticides and New York’s Wetlands

by Maria Maybee, Great Lakes United

Plant extracts and inorganic mixtures such as lime and sulfur, were historically used to control pests around living quarters. Pesticides today constitute an enormous group of chemicals ranging from simple molecules to complex compounds with a virtually unlimited spectrum of toxicities and environmental fate characteristics. They encompass an array of chemicals intended to kill or repel living things. They include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, nematacides, rodenticides, anti-microbial agents, and a host of other biocidal or repellant chemicals. In 1939, 32 pesticide products were registered in the United States; by 1993 that number had risen to 22,000.

Today, pesticides are found everywhere in the world, contaminating soil, air, groundwater, surface water, rain, snow, fog, even the Arctic ice pack. The herbicides atrazine and simazine, for example, are found consistently in rainfall, ground and surface water throughout Wisconsin. Pesticide residues contaminate more than water, they also affect birds, fish, wildlife, domestic animals, livestock and human beings, including newborn babies. Even community residents who do not use pesticides themselves are often at risk from exposure to drift from their neighbors’ use, from state, county or municipal use and agricultural or industrial applications.

Pesticides are used to combat West Nile Virus as well. This writer’s only comment on managing West Nile Virus is that frost season is right around the corner. Spraying pesticides may contaminate the birds food source or minimize what is needed to make the long journey south. Until we can fully justify use of pesticides, let’s wait and let nature take its course.

New York has suffered the adverse affects of pesticides. Groundwater contamination of banned pesticides such as DDT, dieldrin, and chlordane were first detected as a hazard in this state. The likelihood of experiencing adverse health effects as a result of exposure to any pesticide depends primarily on the amount of pesticide which a person contacts and the amount of time the person is in contact with that pesticide. In addition, a person’s age, sex, genetic makeup, life style and/or general health characteristics can affect their likelihood of experiencing adverse health effects as a result of exposure to pesticides. Known danger from common pesticides include asthma, skin rashes, nausea, diarrhea, cancer, birth defects, reproductive effects, nervous system effects, kidney or liver damage, sensitization or irritation. Ecosystem dangers include contaminated groundwater, reproductive failure and or death to birds, fish, aquatic organisms and beneficial insects like bees.

What we put on the lands ends up in our water. Pesticides flow off the land with the water and enter our wetlands, lakes, and streams. Consequently, pesticides represent a potential threat, causing negative impacts to the natural flora and fauna of wetlands. Broad scale use near or within wetlands can indiscriminately kill more than the targeted “pests,” causing upset to the food chain above and below the targeted “pest.” Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has provided an excellent way to reduce reliance on heavy inputs of pesticides. Contact New York State Department of Environmental conservation, Bureau of Pesticides Mangement: (518) 457-7482 or your regional DEC office for more information on IPM or your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

Pesticide Notification Law

New York recently passed the State Pesticide Neighbor Notification Law. This law will require schools and day care centers to provide certain advance notice to parents and guardians before pesticides are applied on their premises. The law also gives counties the right to pass local laws to require commercial pesticide applicator to provide 48-hour advance notice to abutting properties before most lawn pesticide applications, as well as markers posted when applied to large areas of the lawn. NYPIRG has developed a kit to help counties opt in to Neighbor Notification law, including a model law, supporting information, and sample campaign material for citizens. Interested citizens and local officials can request a copy of this kit by writing to NYPIRG, 107 Washington Ave., Albany, NY 12210 or calling (518) 436-0876 or (716) 882-1549.

To reduce pesticide use, citizens and municipalities are encouraged to adopt policies within their own backyard. The “Pesticide Sunset” is a model local law of pest management that phases out the use of pesticides on municipal property over three years, starting with the most hazardous classes of pesticides. Within three years of adoption, all pesticide use would be phased out, with the exception of certain pesticides used for public health purposes and extremely low toxicity pesticides. If you are interested in pursuing this in your own community, please contact NYPIRG (see above). They will provide you with materials to support your effort.

Anyone can get specific information on pesticides used in their own community by calling the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation toll-free at (888) 457-0110 or Another source of material is “The Pesticides Handbook” (1991); G. J. Marco et al., ed., Regulation of Agrochemicals (1991) or “Common Sense Pest Control” or an old favorite Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”.


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