Air Date: Week of May 24, 1996
Prompted both by pesticide spraying around children, and concern regarding an unusually high incidence of breast cancer in the area, Nassau County on Long Island in New York recently passed legislation requiring citizens to notify their neighbors before spraying pesticides. Neal Rauch has this report.
NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. A New York judge has put a temporary stay on a new law in Long Island's Nassau County requiring lawn and tree care companies to give nearby residents 5 days notice before spraying pesticides or other potentially hazardous substances. A judge will hear arguments from supporters and opponents of the law in early June. The law was prompted by the reality that chemical pesticides sprayed in residential neighborhoods can land on a lot more than their intended targets. Neal Rauch has our story.
(Motorized lawn mowers running)
LACASIO: This tree right here is the tree that they were spraying when Travis was standing right here. It was last year when he was 5.
RAUCH: Joan Lacasio of Massapequa, Long Island, has a typical suburban back yard, with a barbecue, laundry hanging on the line, and lots of toys for her 2 children. She also has a fence separating her property from her neighbor's. The neighbor has a tree right up against that fence.
LACASIO: All the baby-sitter saw was the spray coming over, and so she screamed for Travis to come in. He came in and my other son was on the swing set. She brought them both in. When she screamed for Travis to come inside, the gentleman looked over the fence and he had a respirator on. So that's, you know, that's what got me crazy, because here he has a respirator and he doesn't even look over the fence, and he's spraying right there while Travis is standing there.
RAUCH: It's incidents like this that really upset Joan Locasio's brother, Neal Louis.
LOUIS: The vast majority of pesticide use is overkill, it's unnecessary, and it's potentially risky in terms of health consequences. No one should be exposed to a toxic, poisonous chemical against their own will without warning.
RAUCH: Neal Louis heads the Long Island Neighborhood Network, which was a major force behind a unique new law passed in Nassau County. The bill requires companies that spray substances into the air that may drift, such as pesticides, to notify a client's neighbors by postcard 5 business days in advance. The point is to allow residents a chance to plan ahead and close windows, take in laundry, toys, and most important, pets and children. It may sound simple and straightforward enough, but when talking to the 2 sides you get radically different scenarios on what this will all mean.
EISENBUD: There are a lot of examples and we cite just a few in the lawsuit, where that's going to be a disaster for people.
RAUCH: Lawyer Frederick Eisenbud, representing the Nassau/Suffolk Landscape Gardener's Association, has sued to stop the law from taking effect. He points out that the delay of a week can be crucial, especially in gypsy moth season, when a good deal of damage can be done in just a few days. Furthermore, he argues, in New York, municipalities and counties don't have the authority to regulate pesticides.
(A motor whirs)
RAUCH: A plume of water mixed with pesticides is thrown up to 80 feet in the air by this rig belonging to Tree Care, Inc. Manager Gary Carbocci says his workers always make sure no one is in an adjacent yard. Besides, he says, his workers are highly trained to avoid drift, which is already illegal anyway.
CARBOCCI: When you spray the properties, you cannot trespass with anything. You can't trespass with a chemical. And there's laws that protect people from trespassers.
RAUCH: Furthermore, Gary Carbocci says, the sprays are not harmful to most people.
CARBOCCI: All the sprays are mostly water. To kill a small cold-blooded animal requires very little material, at rates that are so low that they don't pose a threat to any larger, warm-blooded animals.
RAUCH: Mr. Carbocci also worries that the law might actually cause environmental harm, in part by discouraging the use of professionals and encouraging residents to apply their own pesticides. And do-it-yourselfers are not covered by the ordinance.
CARBOCCI: I think we're going to be eating more pesticides that way than having professionals take care of the job responsibly.
RAUCH: But the picture that supporters of the notification law paint is a very different one. Again, Neal Louis of the Long Island Neighborhood Network.
LOUIS: What many people don't realize is the person doing the spraying, they could be a 19-year-old who has no training whatsoever, that does not have a license, does not have insurance. And for that matter, does not have to be supervised on site.
RAUCH: As far as trying to apply current trespassing laws to chemical drift, Neal Louis says good luck.
LOUIS: Unless you can prove an actual injury caused to an individual from a spraying, and it's very difficult to prove cause and effect in such a situation, and even in that scenario you have to be prepared to hire a lawyer because the state will not take your case, and you're basically left on your own to bring your own legal action and going up against some well-paid high-priced lawyers working for the chemical industry.
RAUCH: The notification bill was passed by an 18-0 vote in the Republican dominated Nassau County legislature with one abstention. The bill's sponsor, Republican Peter Schmitt, says residents of Long Island have good reason to be concerned about toxins in their environment.
SCHMITT: We have a high rate, unusually high rate of breast cancer incidents on Long Island, and we do know that pesticides are toxic chemicals and what they're designed to do is to kill. You can wait until scientific proof is established. If it is, you can wait until concern turns into hysteria, or you can deal with it.
RAUCH: Applicators of pesticides would prefer a system like the one in Connecticut, where people who specifically want to be notified when a neighbor's property is being sprayed register with the state. But Peter Schmitt rejects that as a solution.
SCHMITT: My property stands to be adversely affected by something that my neighbor is contracting to do. Now I have to try and locate a bureaucracy someplace and put myself on a list to be notified and then it's dependent on the businesses notifying the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy notifying me. I don't think it works very well.
RAUCH: It didn't work very well for Joan Lacasio when her kids got sprayed by her neighbor's contractors. She tried registering directly with that company.
LACASIO: They said we'd be put on a watch list. That means that they would call us every time they sprayed. They did once. They sprayed another month; they called that time. They sprayed 3 times after that; they never called.
RAUCH: Even if the Nassau County law is ultimately thrown out by the courts, supporters say it will have been worthwhile. A lot of public awareness has been generated and a similar bill has been introduced at the state level. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.
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