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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, June 4, 2009
Albany pays no heed to 16-year-old pesticide law
By Anne Hayden
A city of Albany ordinance passed in 1993, to reduce the use of pesticides and substitute safe alternatives, is being ignored while dangerous rodenticides and insecticides continued to be spread at the Rapp Road landfill.
The city ordinance calls for pesticide reduction and a phasing out of pesticides with certain toxicity levels, as classified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The legislative intent reads, “The Common Council declares it to be the policy of the City to phase out pesticide use for many pest-control purposes and to adopt a control policy that substantially relies on nonchemical pest controls.”
It goes on to specify dates by which the city of Albany should have stopped using pesticides of certain toxicity levels on any property that the municipality owns. According to the ordinance, no pesticides of toxicity Categories I, II, or III, should have been used after Jan. 1, 2001.
Further, each year, the law says, any city department that uses pesticides should have been submitting a plan, to the Health and Environment Committee of the Common Council, detailing the ways in which it would reduce pesticide use and substitute safer alternatives.
Michael O’Brien, who chairs that committee, had no knowledge of the ordinance. If the reports were being generated, as mandated by legislation, O’Brien would be the person to receive and distribute them to the council members. In the three-and-a-half years he has chaired the committee, he has not seen a single report, he told The Enterprise this week.
“It wouldn’t be the first time that an ordinance was passed, a task force was created, and then it was forgotten about,” said O’Brien.
Peter Jordan, an attorney for the city of Albany, said that, in the past five years, he has not seen any type of pesticide report either, nor has he heard any mention of the ordinance.
Controversy suspends use
Recently, reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Law revealed that the Rapp Road Landfill, which is owned by the city of Albany, but lies partly in Guilderland, is using a Category I the most toxic insecticide on its property. (For the full story, go to altamontenterprise.com and look under “Guilderland” and “Editorial” for the May 7, 2009 archives). The landfill, owned by the city of Albany, is used by a consortium of a dozen local municipalities including Guilderland, New Scotland, and the Hilltowns.
According to the EPA, a Category I toxicity substance is dangerous to humans and animals when inhaled, ingested, or when it comes in contact with the eyes or skin. The EPA states that pesticides of Category I toxicity are corrosive to eyes and skin.
In addition to being harmful to humans, the insecticides and rodenticides used at the landfill are dangerous to many of the rare species living in the Pine Bush. Lands designated by the state as part of the Pine Bush Preserve are supposed to provide a safe haven for the creatures. The insecticide Cyfluthrin targets moths, and could be poisoning the endangered Karner Blue butterfly, according to state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone. Brodifacoum, a rodenticide banned by the EPA for household use because of its toxicity, was causing hemorrhaging and death in birds and mammals, also according to stone.
Despite the failure to follow, or enforce, the ordinance for the past 16 years, the city has decided to suspend use of the rodenticide Brodifacoum at the landfill, indefinitely. “We had a meeting with the Albany landfill folks, and they decided it would be in their best interest to stop using rodenticide,” said Rick Georgeson, a spokesperson for the DEC. The decision was made due to the recent controversy, he said.
A subsection of the Albany ordinance lists exceptions to the law, one of those being “pesticides in contained baits for the purposes of rodent and insect control.” Joseph Giebelhaus, manager of the landfill, said yesterday that the insecticide used in and around the landfill buildings was not in contained bait, but a spray.
Spokespeople for the EPA and DEC were not able to provide answers about the city’s ordinance, other than supplying explanations on how toxicity levels are determined. Neither organization seemed aware of the original reason behind Albany’s ordinance.
Both the EPA and the DEC require pesticide manufacturers to submit formal applications, along with scientific evidence to back up their statements about the safety of their products. The organizations evaluate the statements and then perform acute toxicity studies, before either granting registration, or denying it due to health and environmental risks, according to Dale Kemery of the EPA, and Maureen Wren of the DEC.
The packaging of registered pesticides is required to be labeled with “signal words” based on the level of toxicity. For Category I, the word is “danger”; for Category II, it is “warning”; and for Category III, it is “caution.”
The signal word for a toxicity level of IV, which should have been the only level used in the city of Albany under the ordinance, is “none required.” The signal word is required to appear on the front panel of the label, according to the EPA.