Law Project Meets With New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the No Spray Coalition at NYC Law Department 1/18/2012

Members of the No Spray Coalition, represented by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, met with City and state officials to discuss the City’s vector control policies since entering into a settlement with the Coalition in 2007. The City agreed in its settlement to have two meetings with members of the No Spray Coalition and this was the second of those meetings.

On the agenda were concerns that the City had not followed through with the promises that it had made at the last meeting between No Spray and City officials. No Spray members expressed their concerns about the City’s decision to spray several areas in Brooklyn and Queens with an insecticide that targets adult mosquitoes last summer. The City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene used a waiver to New York City Local Law 37 in order to spray. Local Law 37 was passed in 2005 and encourages City agencies to be transparent in their decisions to use pesticides, restricts the use of certain harmful pesticides, and encourages the use of safer pesticides and integrated pest management techniques.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (“Department of Health”) officials assured No Spray that there was a comprehensive vector control policy for the City that prioritized the use of integrated pest management. The Department emphasized that their program makes use of larvicides and preventive measures, and only uses insecticides that target adult mosquitoes when absolutely necessary. The Department of Health explained that they address standing water issues, routinely monitor mosquito populations, and educate the public on ways of limiting exposure to mosquitoes. The Department only uses one adult insecticide, Anvil 10+10, and sprays in specific areas where the Department’s surveillance program has found significant numbers of mosquitoes infected with the West Nile Virus. The Department uses data from its surveillance program to decide when and how to use waivers to Local Law 37. In addition, the City claims that the amount of pesticide applied is very minimal and does not pose a significant threat to human health.

The City has made significant progress since 2001 when it allowed for the use of a toxic insecticide in its vector control program. However, No Spray members expressed their concerns that the City has not been transparent in its decision process to use insecticides, has failed in its communication and educations efforts, has not sufficiently monitored effects of the City’s spray incidents on human health, and has not undertaken any new environmental impact statements.

No Spray members alerted Department of Health officials that there were insufficient warnings in communities that were targeted for spraying and that the City’s management plan was not readily accessible to the public. No Spray also expressed doubts that the City’s prevention efforts are sufficient by pointing to anecdotal evidence that the Department was not collecting fines from landlords who failed to properly manage standing water. Members claim that the City’s education efforts are also lacking because they do not give enough guidance and there is little information about the danger of pesticides overall. In addition, although there are guidelines for when and how to use waivers to Local Law 37, there is no record explaining each decision and the decision process is largely informal. Department of Health admitted that the procedure could consist of an informal phone conversation after which the Department only maintains records of the waiver applications and their outcomes. Of additional concern is the Department’s current practice of monitoring effects on human health, its reliance on changes in asthma rates as representative of general health, and lack of monitoring pesticide levels in the urban environment. Furthermore, the City relies on an outdated environmental impact statement that does not include incidents of pesticide related illness since the City began its spray campaigns targeting West Nile Virus. A new environmental impact statement would be needed to analyze the environmental effects of the current vector control practices the City utilizes.

Towards the end of the meeting, Department of Health officials agreed to set up a 311, the information hotline for the city, option to report lack of signage in communities that are scheduled for spraying. The Department requested that incidents of pesticide related illnesses be reported directly to them. The Department also solicited comments on the vector control management plan for 2011, as the 2012 plan was scheduled for release after April.

Charles Alvarez
Law Intern, NYELJP

(Attended by representatives of: New York City Law Department, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 2, United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, ETI Environmental Laboratory (Dr. Simon), Save Organic Standards New York, No Spray Coalition, and New York Environmental Law and Justice Project.)

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