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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 7, 2009
Watching pesticides in the Pine Bush like a hawk
By Anne Hayden
New regulations should be drawn up to control use of pesticides, to solve problems that have been obvious for decades, the state’s wildlife pathologist said last week.
Ward Stone was commenting on animals from the Pine Bush that had rat poison in their systems.
This past winter, Save the Pine Bush, an advocacy group, reviewed animal autopsy reports from the Wildlife Pathology Unit in Delmar, funded by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Many animals were contaminated with Brodifacoum, a poison used to kill rats. Eight coyotes in the Pine Bush region had Brodifacoum in their systems, as did many great horned owls and a few hawks.
The rodenticide entered the food chain, the group maintains, from the Rapp Road landfill. However, the DEC maintains it’s impossible to tell where the animals picked up the chemicals.
“I don’t like to see Brodifacoum anywhere,” said Stone. “It moves easily among the food chain and is the worst of the rodenticides. I think it should be banned on a national level.”
Stone told The Enterprise he is not surprised that the landfill uses Brodifacoum, but thinks it needs to review its usage.
The question has been gnawing at the public conscience since late last year.
In December, at a hearing on the proposed expansion of the Rapp Road landfill, Grace Nichols, a former middle-school science teacher, brought to the public’s attention that authorities at the landfill weren’t providing records on what kind of poison they use to control rodents. She said it was the state’s DEC’s duty to make sure the animals living in the Pine Bush weren’t being affected by pesticides.
Just after the December hearing, Joseph Giebelhaus, manager of the landfill, told The Enterprise that no rodenticide was used in or around the landfill; he said the landfill had a contract with the city to periodically lay down bait for mice inside the buildings, but that it was the same kind of rodent poison used in homes. Giebelhaus could not be reached for comment this week.
Nichols spoke again at a public forum in April, after conducting her own research into the use of pesticides and rodenticides at the landfill. She told The Enterprise that rodenticides are generally used at landfills, and that she was concerned about their use at the Rapp Road landfill because of its proximity to the Pine Bush preserve, home to over 45 rare species.
Of particular concern to Nichols were pesticides used to target moths, which might affect the Karner blue butterfly, as well as rodenticides targeting rats, since rats may be eaten by the various raptor species living in the preserve, resulting in secondary poisoning.
Nichols obtained contract records from the Albany City Clerk’s office, and found that the Department of General Services had paid Rentokill, Inc. for pesticides to be spread at the landfill; the contract is still ongoing. The records, reviewed by The Enterprise, show the city was spreading three types of lethal insecticides, as well as the rodenticide Brodifacoum, both in and outside the buildings at the landfill.
According to the records, Brodifacoum is used to target rodents, and “causes hemorrhage, accumulates in carnivores; kills owls, hawks, crows and coyotes.” The other regularly used pesticide was Bifenthrin, which was described as “fatal to insects including moths.”
The Rentokill, Inc., reports from 2007 to 2008 show that the insecticides and rodenticide were spread in six different locations at the landfill the scale house, the garage, the office, recycling centers, the worksite bait station, and the “exterior and external.” The pesticides were spread on 16 different occasions from Jan. 18, 2007 to Dec. 26, 2008.
Rick Georgeson, a spokesperson for the DEC, said that pesticides and rodenticides are used at the landfill building, but not on the landfill itself. He said that the landfill sends reports to the DEC on its use of pesticides, and only uses certified applicators.
“As long as they use certified applicators, and follow the regulations, there is nothing the DEC can do about it,” said Georgeson, noting that he does not know how often the pesticides are spread.
As for the animals found with traces of pesticides in their systems, Georgeson said it is impossible to determine where they picked up the chemicals. Many other homes and businesses in the area use pesticides and rodenticides, he said, and animals could easily be exposed that way.
Georgeson provided The Enterprise with a copy of Clough Harbor and Associate’s responses to public comments on the landfill application, a document dated March 25, 2009. Clough Harbor, an engineering firm, provides environmental monitoring, consulting, and construction for the Rapp Road landfill.
In response to a question concerning rodenticide use, Clough Harbor said the city does not currently use rodenticides in the landfill, but that, if it did, federal and state agencies would approve the use of Coumarine rodenticides, like Brodifacoum, because “they do not represent a toxic risk to birds, and non-rodent mammal species.”
Clough Harbor noted that the city did have a contract to use rodenticides in and around buildings, “similar to any residential or commercial facility in the region.”
The DEC, in response to the same question, said that the DEC Region 4 Pesticides Unit was not aware of rodenticide use at the landfill. In addition, the DEC commented, “There are many other locations within a short distance of the Albany landfill where rodenticides are very likely to be used to control rats and/or mice. Since wildlife ingesting rodenticides can go quite a distance before dying…it is very difficult to assign a specific source.”
Although Stone and Nichols believe that the city needs to review use of pesticides and rodenticides at the landfill, both also agree that homes and businesses around the Pine Bush area need to monitor their usage of pesticides. “People living around the landfill need to be aware of what they are applying, and find safe alternatives,” said Stone.
“Businesses and homes that are neighbors to the Pine Bush should be provided with education and incentives to become pesticide free,” Nichols said.