A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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Big Apple sprayed again; Bedbugs; Organic farm contaminated; Wisconsin to toughen pesticide rules; more...
August 30, 2007
NYC resumes s praying Big Apple:
In 1999 and 2000, thousands of New Yorkers were sickened after Mayor Rudy Giuliani authorized spraying neighborhoods with pesticides. In April, the City settled a lawsuit brought by the No Spray Coalition and other groups that claimed the spraying caused "skyrocketing increases in cancer and asthma." In addition to paying $80,000 to local environmental groups, the City had to stipulate that pesticides "cause adverse health effects." Five months later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced new plans to spray the anti-mosquito pesticide Anvil 10+10 over Queens and the Bronx. The No Spray Coalition denounced the decision and condemned the City's suggestion that residents use DEET insect repellants on their children, despite the fact that DEET has been "associated with numerous infant deaths." The active ingredients of Anvil 10 + 10 include phenothrin (a suspected endocrine-disrupting pyrethroid) and piperonyl butoxide (a possible carcinogen). While the City insists that Anvil 10+10 poses "no significant risks of adverse impact," spraying opponents continue to urge the City to use natural, safe alternatives to help individuals ward off mosquitoes.
Public interest groups to New York's Spitzer: ban pesticides!
A coalition of 26 environmental and health organizations has petitioned New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to issue an Executive Order requiring state agencies to "phase out the use of toxic pesticides in favor of less- and non-toxic products." The coalition wants a statewide ban on chemicals linked to asthma attacks, birth defects and cancer. The petition noted that, as NY Attorney General, Spitzer worked "to reduce the public's exposure to harmful pesticides." The hope is that, as governor, Spitzer will "make New York a national leader in promoting and implementing safe and effective alternatives to pesticides." Albany, Buffalo, Suffolk and Westchester Counties, as well as New York City, already have adopted laws to "restrict or ban" pesticides on municipal property. A spokesperson for Spitzer's office stated that the governor "understands the health and environmental concerns associated with pesticides" and promised that the state's Department of Environmental Conservation would take the proposal into consideration.
West Nile spray contaminates organic farm:
In late March, concerned by seven West Nile deaths across the state, California ordered aerial spraying of 55,000 acres along the American River near Sacramento. When many of the region's 375,000 residents opposed the plan to fight mosquitoes through adulticide pesticide spraying, State health officials claimed the application posed no health hazards. Even if that were true, it would be no comfort to Steven Zien, the owner of an organic landscaping business located in the path of the spray planes. "The district's 'spray-everything' attitude put my business and health at risk," Zien asserted. Organic farms can lose their certification if their produce is contaminated with chemicals. The Associated Press reports that tests conducted by Environmental Micro Analysis scientists confirmed that Zien's crops had been contaminated by pyrethrum and piperonyl butoxide. Ironically, notes Paul Schramski of Pesticide Watch, "aerial spraying for mosquito control is widely considered... to be the least effective and most risky response" to the West Nile threat. Since the spraying, two more Californians have succumbed to West Nile.
The forces that want to bring back DDT have found a friend in the bedbug. A flurry of recent media stories, from NPR to U.S. News & World Report, has spread alarm that blood-sucking bedbugs are on the rebound thanks to the banning of DDT. While bedbugs can be picked up in some U.S. four-star hotels, recent news stories are shifting the blame to infested foreign hotels and visitors from abroad. The "experts" cited by most reports turn out to be the pesticide purveyors themselves--Orkin Pest Control, Western Exterminator Co, the National Pest Management Association. "Bedbugs are going ballistic," University of Kentucky Entomologist Michael Potter told the Los Angeles Times in August, a claim he has been repeating since at least 2004. Potter (who was formerly national technical director for Orkin, the world's largest pest control company) is regularly cited by pesticide advocates. Orkin has won kudos for devising a pesticide-free treatment that uses 212°F steam-cleaning to beat the bugs.
Got bedbugs? IPM is the solution:
The best approaches for eliminating bedbugs don't involve chemical treatments at all. In fact, since bedbugs are, or quickly become, resistant to most pesticides, it's best to rely on the more effective and non-toxic methods of removal like vacuuming the bugs and their eggs from their hiding places or using steam or diatomaceous earth to treat cracks and crevices that can't be reached with a vacuum cleaner. Heat treatments of the entire room also work and are offered by some pest control companies. The New York State IPM fact sheet provides a good start on integrating IPM into a home bedbug-control strategy.
Wisconsin considers stricter herbicide limits:
Wisconsin's Natural Resources Board has proposed tighter limits on levels of alachlor-ESA (a breakdown product of the carcinogenic herbicide alachlor) in groundwater. The previous standard of 40 parts per billion (ppb) would be cut to 20 ppb. According to an Associated Press story, previous attempts to tighten alachlor regulations were blocked by the Republican-controlled state Senate. But Wisconsin's new Democratic majority may finally adopt the standard. In 2001, alachlor-ESA was found in 28% of Wisconsin's private wells, although it is used on less than a quarter of the state's 100,000 acres of corn. Long-term exposure to alachlor can cause liver, kidney, and spleen damage. In 2005, Monsanto (alachlor's manufacturer) offered to fund a study defending its product but State officials refused the offer. "I hope the Assembly committee will support the public health interests instead of Monsanto's image interests," said State Senator Bob Jauch. "We're not here to do Monsanto's bidding. We're here to do the public's bidding."
Banned pesticide is killing Britain's rarest birds:
Residents of the Glenturret Estate in Perthshire, England, are "appalled" after a third red kite -- one of Britain's rarest birds -- was poisoned with a banned pesticide. Tests revealed that all three birds consumed carbofuran, a compound outlawed in 2001. The Wildlife and Environment Officer with the Tayside Police force said those involved in the deaths should "hang their head in shame." Since kites are scavengers, they are particularly vulnerable to poisoned baits. One Glenturret resident fumed: "It is an absolute disgrace that a method commonly employed to kill birds of prey two centuries ago is still in use in 2007." Glenturret is home to a many birds of prey, including golden eagles, hen harriers, and buzzards. 2006 saw the highest incidence of poisoning of birds of prey in more than a decade.
A wise shopper's guide:
If you can't avoid pesticides by growing your own food or always buying certified organic, the Sierra Club's "Mr. Green" has hints on how you can minimize the chemical load in your shopping cart. The Environmental Working Group has compiled a watch list showing which off-the-shelf fruits and vegetables are most and least contaminated with pesticides, providing a downloadable wallet-sized card you can carry whilst shopping. (A quick tip: stay away from the peaches and apples.) Need more arguments to convince friends and family to eat organic? Mission Organic 2010, a Website created by The Organic Center (the food industry's education arm), claims that, if organic foods constituted just 10% of the average American diet, this would add more than 6 billion pounds of carbon to the soil and save more than 2 billion barrels of imported oil annually.
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
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