Long Island is Hazardous to Your Health! Watch Out for Pesticide Poisoning! by Jessica Helm

Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides and other pest-related chemical poisons. Long Island (along with Westchester and Manhattan) has more pesticide applied to it every year than the rest of the state. Long Island's geology absorbs water, and the wells supplying drinking water are all fed by surface water seepage. Drinking water tests in Suffolk and Nassau counties detect over ten different pesticides, some in levels higher than the maximum allowable dose. Shockingly, fifty one percent of private wells in a 2002 DEC/Suffolk county department of health study were contaminated with pesticides or pesticide related chemicals. Storm water runoff also sends pesticide laced fresh water into the estuaries and bays around Long Island.

Many pesticides are confirmed or suspected carcinogens, act as hormone disruptors, or disrupt central nervous system function. Pesticide exposure has been linked to cancers such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma, neuroblastoma, and leukemia.. One formerly common pesticide (now discontinued), methoxychlor, creates an inheritable reduction in male fertility. Other pesticides initially appear less toxic in lab studies, and are not rigorously tested for environmental toxicity. The combined effects of several of these chemicals could be very toxic in a way that would not be predicted by basic laboratory tests. Our watershed and tidewater ecosystems (and our bodies) already bear stress from habitat disruption and other factors - these pesticides may prove to be the straw that breaks the ecosystem or organism's back.

Pesticide use in Long Island falls into three groups: agricultural, commercial (such as landscapers and pest control), and residential. Most of pesticides found in Long Island's ground water today come from pesticides applied to farms and many have been banned (and presumably not used) for 10 years or longer. In other words, chemicals used now can show up for years, and chemicals we consider safe now may be banned as dangerous once they have poisoned our water. Today, farms are being developed for housing and farm pesticide use is down. However, commercial and residential pesticide use is swelling as suburban homes are "treated" with a concentrated chemical arsenal meant to eradicate pests or unsightly weeds.

Home pesticides differ somewhat from those available to licensed applicators, as do the pests targeted by those pesticides. These chemicals vary in their toxicity, but commonly used insecticides are toxic to fish, birds, earthworms and bees, and are responsible for the majority of wildlife poisonings. Common herbicides like 2,4-D have acute toxic effects if mishandled, possible long term effects, and have been found in groundwater in several states. Most pesticides will last in your yard and on vegetables for at least several weeks after application (some have for years) and children are especially sensitive to toxic chemicals. Though they do break down over time, chemicals will accumulate in streams and estuaries, adding up to a toxic load for suburban watersheds.

Federal, state, and Nassau and Suffolk county governments all regulate pesticides. For the most toxic pesticides, registrations may be denied or revoked, and often pesticides which were once common are found to be ecologically toxic or suspected of long term health problems in humans and are restricted later. This method unfortunately allows many pesticides to do their damage before they are restricted. Nassau and Suffolk counties have tried to limit the damage caused by pesticides by limiting use on county properties, and Suffolk County has announced the creation of agricultural pesticide handling facilities to help with disposal of waste pesticides and contaminated water. A state Neighbor Notification law requires that commercial pesticide applicators notify neighbors when they plan to spray, and requires schools to notify parents of pesticide use and allows parents to sign up to be alerted to pesticide treatments during the school year.

The result of Long Island's abuse of pesticides is clear- increasing amounts of various pesticides leaching into the ground water and spreading, and increasing concentrations of pesticides affecting organisms they were never meant to target in the marshes, bays, and water faucets. These chemicals will be causing harm for years to come, so it is critical that we eliminate them now, before they infiltrate our environment.

Learn to change your attitude about pesticides. We have been conditioned to believe from extermination companies that your house and trees need to be sprayed every 6 months. Think of all the cancerous chemicals you are exposing you and your family every time you invite the exterminator or tree sprayers over. Instead, check out safer organic alternatives to garden and home pesticide use!

Jessica Helm is the media relation liason for the Long Island Sierra Club. For more info on pesticide alternatives: http://www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html; http://www.longislandnn.org. NY. To get involved in working to reduce pesticides or any other campaign, contact the Long Island Sierra Club http://newyork.sierraclub.org/longisland.

References:
1 Pesticide Sales and Use Reporting http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/psur/
2 Suffolk County Water Report 2005 http://www.scwa.com/SCWA_2005_AWQR.pdf
Nassau County Department of Health http://www.nassaucountyny/agencies/health
(Environmental Health, Water Quality Monitoring)
3 Group for the South Fork http://www.thehamptons.com/group/clean_water.html
4 Buckley et al, Cancer 2000, v89, p2315-21
5 Hoar et al. Epidemiology 1990, v1, p349-356
6 Daniels et al. Epidemiology 2001, v12, p20-2
7 Ma et al. Environ Health Perspect 2002, v110, p955-960
8 Skinner and Anway, Ann NY Acad Sci 2005, v1061, p18-32
1 Pesticide Sales and Use Reporting http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/psur/
2 Suffolk County Water Report 2005 http://www.scwa.com/SCWA_2005_AWQR.pdf
Nassau County Department of Health http://www.nassaucountyny/agencies/health
(Environmental Health, Water Quality Monitoring)
3 Group for the South Fork http://www.thehamptons.com/group/clean_water.html
4 Buckley et al, Cancer 2000, v89, p2315-21
5 Hoar et al. Epidemiology 1990, v1, p349-356
6 Daniels et al. Epidemiology 2001, v12, p20-2
7 Ma et al. Environ Health Perspect 2002, v110, p955-960
8 Skinner and Anway, Ann NY Acad Sci 2005, v1061, p18-32