The Perils of Pesticide

New York State Attorney General's Office warns "Urban Children at Risk" Because of Widespread Pesticide Use in Public Housing, Schools and Parks

By Michele Leight

For those who remember Meryl Streep in "Silkwood," and more recently "Erin Brokovitch," for which Julia Roberts received an Oscar, and for anyone concerned about the corrosive effects of chemicals on the environment, in the air, in food and most crucially on our children, a report published August 20, 2002 by the New York State Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau is a wake-up call for all those who think that ethics and morality rule when it comes to the manufacture and sale of chemical pesticides.

The report was entitled "Pest Control in Public Housing, Schools and Parks: Urban Children at Risk," and was put together by Peter Lehner, the bureau chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau of the New York State Attorney General's Office and authored by Michael H. Surgan, Phd., chief scientist, Thomas Congdon, policy analyst, and Christine Primi, Stephanie Lamster and Jennifer Louise-Jacques, science aides of the Environmental Protection Bureau of the Attorney General's office.

In the report's foreword, Peter J. Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc., Professor and Chair, Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, Director, Center of Children's Health and Environment, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, notes the following:

"In 1999," commercial pesticide applicators applied 4.1 million pounds of dry pesticides and 820,000 gallons of liquid pesticide to homes, apartments, schools, parks and day care centers, senior centers, hospitals, offices and office buildings across New York State. Homeowners, landlords and apartment dwellers purchased many additional thousands of pounds of pesticides for private application. The pesticides used in New York include carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, chemicals capable of causing birth defects, and chemicals that can cause brain damage....Children are especially sensitive to pesticides. Pound for pound, children have greater exposure to pesticides than adults because they live and play close to the floor, breathe close to the ground and constantly put their fingers into their mouths. Children's developing organ systems are highly vulnerable to pesticides. Exposures of children to pesticides in the womb and during the first years after birth are linked to an increased risk of cancer and to increased risks of injury to the brain and nervous system."

Why does this situation exist? Mr. Landrigan, who is a medical man, cuts to the chase:

"Most of the pesticides that are used and sold within the State of New York are legal. These chemicals are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Their use is permitted under federal and state law despite their well-recognized toxicity. This dangerous situation has arisen because until very recently pesticide standards were set through a balancing process that weighed health benefits against claims - often poorly supported claims - for the economic benefits of pesticide use. The two lessons to be learned here are (1) that governmental sanction is not a guarantee of pesticide safety, and (2) that agencies and consumers need to learn about the hazards of the pesticides that they use and take intelligent steps to reduce pesticide use, wherever possible. Illegal pesticides are also applied in New York. These are pesticides that have been imported illegally into the United States or that are used in an illegal manner. These unauthorized chemicals are often highly toxic, and they pose grave dangers to human health, especially the health of children. The report signals a need for increased enforcement of state pesticide laws."

Mr. Landrigan maintained that the report issued by the Attorney General's office "has developed a balanced, sensible and evidence-based approach for addressing the problem of pesticide toxicity in New York State...[and] is based on a detailed survey of pest control practices in the public housing, schools and parks of five major cities across the State coupled with door-to-door surveys of the pesticide use practices of residents in these same five cities, and surveys of stores to determine what pesticides are offered for sale."

"This path-breaking report is one of the very first to focus on pest control policies and practices that affect the cumulative pesticide exposure of urban children in the places where they spend most of their time. This detailed investigation confirms that toxic pesticides are used extensively in apartments, schools and parks across New York State by government agencies and commercial applicators, as well as by residents. Two very important findings are (1) that there are no statewide policy guidelines for pesticide use and (2) that practices for pesticide use differ from city to city and from agency to agency. There is also no statewide plan in place, except at the Department of Education, to reduce use of toxic pesticides. This report should be a wake-up call to state and local agencies to be more active in reducing the exposure of children to pesticides."

"Urban children spend about 90% of their time either in their homes, at school or in public parks," Spitzer said. "These places are often treated with pesticides that could threaten children’s health. It is entirely possible to control pest problems without resorting to the use of toxic pesticides. With children’s health at stake, managers of these facilities and residents should make every effort to eliminate pest problems without using toxic pesticides."

The Attorney General’s office surveyed the pest management policies and practices for the year 2000 of various public housing developments and nearby schools and parks in Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Syracuse and Yonkers. The survey responses identify the most commonly used pesticides and the frequency of use. Local retail stores were also surveyed to determine the availability of particular pesticide products to local residents.

The report, entitled "Pest Control in Urban Housing, Parks and Schools: Children at Risk," found that:

Eight out of ten housing developments surveyed (two in each of five cities) applied pesticides inside apartments and in common areas on a regular basis, rather than limiting application to identified pest problems. This usually leads to excessive and unnecessary pesticide use and exposure.

Statewide, 69% of responding residents applied pesticides in their own homes, and one-third did so at least once a week. Many of the pesticides used are highly toxic and some are illegal in New York.

Ten of 14 responding schools reported using pesticides, and schools in New York City and Yonkers reported using restricted use pesticides (which must be applied by, or under the supervision of, a certified applicator due to their high toxicity or due to their potential to persist and accumulate in the environment).

Three parks, one in New York City and two in Yonkers, reported using herbicides for aesthetic, as opposed to public health, purposes.

Only two of the 15 institutions surveyed have adopted written pest management policies, even though clear policies are essential to an effective pest control program.

Seventy-three stores located near the surveyed public housing facilities were also surveyed, and 12 of the stores were found to be selling illegal pesticides. All 12 have signed agreements with Spitzer’s office obligating them to remove the illegal products from their shelves and not sell them in the future. Additional investigations into illegal pesticide sales continue. (See the attached fact sheet for a list of the 12 stores.)

"Illegal pesticides not properly registered for use pose a particular concern because these products may not have been adequately tested and can be highly toxic," said Mr. Spitzer. "Retail stores that choose to sell pesticides must be aware of their legal obligation to ensure the products are properly registered." His report reveals widespread use of pesticides in public housing developments, schools and parks despite the availability of less toxic methods of effective pest control. The report (which can be found at the Attorney General's website) argues that there is a clear need for improved pest management practices that do not heavily rely on using toxic pesticides.

"Children’s developing organ systems are highly vulnerable to pesticides," said Dr. Philip Landrigan, Chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine and Director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Exposures of children to pesticides in the womb and during the first years after birth are linked to an increased risk of cancer and to increased risks of injury to the brain and nervous system. This path-breaking report is one of the very first to focus on pest control policies and practices that affect the cumulative pesticide exposure of urban children in the places where they spend most of their time."

"Not only is exposure to toxic chemicals dangerous and unnecessary, given the availability of alternatives, but it also represents a missed opportunity to improve the lives of public housing residents. The very steps one takes to pestproof buildings without chemicals - - such as fixing leaks and holes - - also improve the overall quality, safety, and livability of urban residences," said Audrey Thier, Pesticide Project Director at Environmental Advocates.

"The federal government has left children unprotected from pesticide exposure in homes. We are very fortunate that consumer and family advocates in the states such as Attorney General Eliot Spitzer are doing their best to arm families with information to protect themselves," said David Hahn-Baker, a Buffalo environmental advocate.

Mr. Spitzer also released brochures to inform the public about practical pest control methods that can reduce pesticide use. These brochures identify non-toxic methods, analyzed in the report, which have been used successfully to reduce pest problems more effectively than regular pesticide use, reduce costs, and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals.

"Reducing pesticide use does not mean increasing pests," said Pam Hadad-Hurst, Executive Director of the New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. "We have identified proven techniques to eliminate pests without using toxic pesticides."

Legislation pending in both houses of the State Legislature (Assembly bill 1746/Senate bill 6335) would establish an urban pesticide board to make recommendations to reduce the amount of pesticides used in urban areas and require certified pesticide applicators to demonstrate a knowledge of non-pesticidal pest control methods. "Our findings are cause for concern," said Mr. Spitzer, adding that "The high frequency of pesticide applications in urban areas merits a closer examination by those interested in children’s health. I welcome the Legislature’s interest in this issue and urge lawmakers to pass Assembly bill 1746/Senate bill 6335."

The report is also available by writing to the Attorney General’s Office at State Capitol, Albany, New York 12224.

New York State Law requires every pesticide that is used, distributed, sold, or offered for sale within New York State to be registered every two years with the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation in addition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In the State of New York, it is unlawful to distribute, sell, offer for sale or use within the State any pesticide that has not been registered by both agencies.

The report found that 12 of 73 surveyed stores were found to be selling unregistered pesticides. They are: Johnny's Deli & Superette (Yonkers); Shop Smart (Yonkers); Foodtown (Yonkers); Locust Hill Mini Mart Inc. (Yonkers); Deli Express Grocery (Bronx); Throgg's Neck Best Gourmet Deli (Bronx); La Matesina Discounts (Bronx); 99 cents Plus Discounts (Bronx); C-Town (Harlem); Gersitz Hardware (Buffalo); ABC Hardware (Buffalo); sf Northland Hardware (Buffalo).

Under binding agreements with the Attorney General pursuant to New York Executive Law, all twelve stores have agreed to, cease and desist selling any pesticide products that are not registered with the DEC for sale or use in New York State, immediately and legally dispose of any pesticide products in their possession that are not registered with DEC for sale or use in New York State, and pay monetary penalties of between $2,000 and $25,000 per store, depending on how many illegal products were being sold and each store’s future compliance record.


The full report, which is downloaded in a 25-megabyte PDF document file from the Attorney General's website, makes sober reading.

"Most disturbing, the Attorney General's survey discovered that some very dangerous pesticides are used by governmental agencies in places where people live, work and play," Mr. Landrigan noted. "For example, the New York City schools, the Syracuse schools and the Albany Housing Authority use hydramethylnon, a pesticide classified by U.S. EPA as a 'possible carcinogen.' Residents make wide use of organophospate and carbamate pesticides, classes of pesticide chemicals that are deliberately designed to damage the nervous system. All of these chemicals are applied in areas frequented by infants and children," and, by focusing on the solution, Mr. Landrigan adds hope: "The Attorney General states that the essential heart of any pesticide use reduction program is a 'clear and unambiguous pest control strategy.' Such strategies need to identify who is in charge of a program, they need to incorporate approaches that avoid or minimize reliance on chemical pesticides, and they must have clearly defined procedures for notification of the public when pesticides are to be used. As a positive example, the Attorney General praises the School Integrated Pest Management and Neighbor Notification Guidelines of the New York State Department of Education, noting that by 'following these guidelines, schools can go a long way toward reducing pesticide use.'"

According to the report, asthma rates among urban children from lower socioeconomic areas have reached epidemic rates. The report found that asthma may be exacerbated by many irritants, including the wastes and remains of insect and rodent pests, and adds: "Some may argue that pesticides are necessary to control these pests and eliminate them as triggers of asthmatic attacks. In fact, some of the pesticides used to control these same pests also contribute to the asthma problem."

Pesticide poisoning often appears to have the same symptoms as other conditions, as the report shows: "A study conducted by University of Texas pediatricians dramatically demonstrated this fact. Looking at 20 children referred to them by other hospitals, and who they properly diagnosed as victims of pesticide poisoning, they found that 16 of the 20 had been misdiagnosed before the referral. Initial diagnoses included pneumonia, bronchitis, diabetes, brain aneurysm and head trauma. In each of those cases, the symptoms were actually caused by exposure to organophosphate or carbamate pesticides. Both of these types of pesticides are among those frequently selected for use by our survey respondents."

In addition to the reduction of the frequency of disease caused by chemical pesticides, especially in our children, Mr. Landrigan adds that "the recommendations in the report will save New Yorkers money because diseases in children that are caused by pesticides and other toxic chemicals cost the State of New York billions of dollars in health care costs each year, and because chemical pesticides are themselves very expensive. By reducing the use of chemical pesticides, the Attorney General's recommendations will save New Yorkers money in the short run by reducing purchases of these expensive chemicals, and they will save still more money in the long run by preventing unnecessary disease and disability. I recommend this report highly to all who care about the environment of New York, to all who care about the environment of New York, to all who care for the health of New York's children, and to all who believe in the importance of good government."

It goes without saying that although children are the most vulnerable to toxic pesticide use, everyone and everything in our environment - is at risk as well.

The report's executive summary provides the following commentary:

"Infants and children are not simply little adults when it comes to poisons such as pesticides. Their ignorance of the dangers, and their tendency to crawl on floors, explore new objects, and put hands and other things in their mouths make them especially likely to be exposed to pesticides. Their developing bodies and changing metabolism increases their vulnerability. In short, children are at special risk.Pesticides poisons designed to kill or otherwise eliminate pests can cause a wide range of health impacts. While some effects may be immediately apparent, such as vomiting or tremors, other impacts are more subtle and pernicious. Commonly used pesticides can cause long-term neurological damage, developmental or reproductive disorders, and cancer. While the dietary exposure of children to pesticides has received some attention most significantly, the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act directs the federal government to re-examine food pesticide residues with specific attention to the extra sensitivity of infants and children environmental exposure, especially of urban children, has largely escaped notice. State records, however, show that commercial applicators apply large amounts of pesticides in urban areas. (New York City, for example, accounted for 27% of the total solid pesticides and 36% of the total liquid pesticides commercially applied or sold to farmers statewide.) This report seeks to fill that void by examining the non-dietary exposure to pesticides of children in five New York cities Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Syracuse and Yonkers in their homes, schools and nearby parks, areas where urban children spend 90% or more of their time. Experience elsewhere conclusively demonstrates that people need not live with pests if they forgo pesticides. Indeed, many municipalities and housing developments have dramatically reduced pests with no pesticide use at all, largely through improved maintenance and sanitation. Other programs to reduce pesticide use yielded cost savings of 50% to 75%, and still achieved successful pest control. Much of the exposure of urban children to pesticides may be unnecessary."

The Attorney General's Environmental Protection Bureau got informaton about pesticides insecticides, rodenticides, and herbicides used and pesticide use policies from the administrators of public housing developments and schools and parks in each of the cities and it also surveyed residents to determine their personal pest control practices. In addition, it "visited local retail stores to determine the availability of particular pesticide products to local residents.

"Our findings are a cause for concern. Housing authorities, school and park administrators, and the children's parents frequently use toxic pesticides in areas where children may be exposed. These pesticides include some that may cause cancer, interfere with the normal development of a child's nervous system, increase the incidence of asthmatic attacks, or irritate the skin, eyes, respiratory system and digestive system," the report stated.

The report found that only 2 of 15 institutions had clear policies for an effective pest control program, that 8 of 10 housing developments applied pesticides inside apartments and in common areas on a regular basis rather than limiting applications to specific pest problems, that 69 percent of respondent residents applied pesticides in their own homes, a third of which did so once a week. It also found that all five housing authorities used restricted-use pesticides and that three parks - one in New York City and two in Yonkers - used herbicides for aesthetic, instead of health-related purposes. Furthermore, it continued, none of the surveyed schools that applied pesticides notified students or parents before pesticide applications during the 2000-01 academic year, notification that was required by the State Education Law effective July 1, 2001.

Residential pesticide use, both by the housing authority and by residents, was highest in New York City and Yonkers where people live in high-rise apartment buildings and lowest in Syracuse, where the developments consist of garden apartments. In New York City, 93 percent of the residents surveyed applied pesticides in their homes at least once a week while in Syracuse the percentage was only 41 percent.

The report summarizes the toxicity of the pesticides used, narrowing it down to products containing active ingredients belonging to six chemical classes, which are mixed with a wide variety of "inert" ingredients that aid in the application of the active ingredient.

The active ingredients selected by residents and housing authorities, and their toxic effect, are summarized as follows:

47.2% of surveyed residents in Albany, New York City, Syracuse and Yonkers used Pyrethroids (insecticides), which cause skin irritation and numbness, incoordination, tremors, vomiting and diarrhea.

16.6% of surveyed residents of Albany, Buffalo and Yonkers used Pyrethrins (insecticides), which are allergenic and some may be carcinogenic.

16.1% of surveyed residents of Albany used Organophosphates (insecticides), which impair nervous system development and function, and cause skin skin irritation and numbness, incoordination, tremors, vomiting and diarrhea.

15.6% of surveyed residents in Albany and Buffalo used Hydramethylon (insectide), which causes irritation of eyes and respiratory system and may be carcinogenic.

14.1% of surveyed residents of Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse used Carbamates (insecticides), which cause impairment of the nervous system, skin irritation and numbness, incoordination, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea (to a somewhat lesser degree than organophosphates).

Grim as these statistics look, the report also found that local efforts to reduce pesticide use work. Albany and Buffalo passed "sunset" ordinances to phase out pesticide use on public property and reported virtually no pesticide use in their parks. All five housing authorities provided advanced notice of pesticide applications (however the Yonkers Municipal Housing Authority distributes only an annual scheduling and does not appear to provide notice of any unscheduled applications). Signs (though often inconspicuous) were posted in parks where pesticides were applied. Prominently displayed signs can help avoid pesticide exposures.

Pesticide products are generally sold as formulations with active pesticide ingredients to kill the target organism and other ingredients that serve other purposes such as assisting in the application of the pesticide. Most are sold under brand names that by themselves do not identify the pesticide.

What follows is a list of pesticide products that the Attorney General's office has identified as having harmful active ingredients and that were used by residents in the survey. Some of them are all too familiar and readily available in stores. A synopsis of the possible and probable health risks associated with these products follows each list.


Hot Shot Flying Insect Killer Plus; Raid Max Roach & Ant Killer 6; Drione Insecticide; Raid Ant & Roach Killer (#6 & #16); Raid Max Roach & Ant Killer; TAT Roach & Ant Killer w/Residual Action III; Ficam Plus Synergized Pyrethrins; Hotshot Roach & Ant Killer; Spectracide Pro Residual Insecticide Aerosol; PT 565 Plus Pyrethrum; CB-80 Extra Insecticide; and Pro Control II Total Release Fogger

Pyrethrins are naturally occurring substances - extracted from chrysanthemums - that are commonly used as insecticides. "Natural" is not always "non-toxic," and pyrethrins are not devoid of toxic effects. Pyrethrins are allergenic, and may be a particular problem for asthmatics. In addition, they have been classified by EPA as "Likely Carcinogens." Often, products containing pyrethrins also contain organophosphates or n-methyl carbamates to enable a quick "knockdown" of the pest populations; in addition piperonyl butoxide may be added as a "synergist," - an ingredient added to enhance the activity of the active ingredient. Like pyrethrins, piperonyl butoxide - a naturally occurring substance - enhances the actions of some insecticides, including pyrethrins, organophosphates and carbamates by interfering with the target insect's natural ability to break down the active pesticidal ingredient. In humans, piperonyl butoxide also interferes with the ability to break down certain toxic substances. It is also classified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen.


Black Jack Roach and Ant Killer IV; Zoecon Catalyst Emulsified in Water Insecticide; Raid Ant Bait; Raid Ant Controller

Organophosphates include such insecticides as chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and propetamphos. They affect the nervous system of both insects (their target) and mammals (including humans) by disturbing the chemical steps involved in transmitting a nerve impulse. When normal function is disrupted by organophosphates, the nervous system is overstimulated, producing a variety of adverse effects. Because all poisons in this chemical group act in the same manner, exposures to multiple pesticides would be cumulative in their effects.

Organophosphate poisoning in humans can result in a wide variety of effects on the body. Early symptoms include headache, nausea and dizziness and may progress to muscular twitching, weakness and tremors, incoordination, vomiting, diarrhea and visual disturbances. Mental confusion and psychosis may occur, and ultimately convulsions, coma, respiratory failure and death may ensue. Repeated exposure to levels of organophosphates too low to cause the acute poisoning described above may still cause persistent anorexia (loss of appetite), weakness and malaise. In a recent report, patients exposed to professionally applied chlorpyrifos in their environment suffered a variety of nervous system effects. Several of them experienced memory loss and other mental deficits which persisted for months after exposure. Recent studies have demonstrated that newborn animals suffer long-term effects on their nervous and immune systems as a result of exposure to chlorpyrifos. These effects may persist for life.


Black Flag Ant & Roach Killer; Ficam Plus Synergized Pyrethrins (classified as a Restricted Use Product); Raid Max Roach & Ant Killer; Black Flag Ant & Roach Killer; Raid Max Roach & Ant Killer; Ficam W; Garden Tech Sevin - 5; Ready To Use 5% Dust Bug Killer; Raid Max Roach & Ant Killer; TAT Roach Killer VI

Carbamate insecticides (often called n-methyl carbamates) also interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses. In fact, they act by disturbing the same chemical step in normal nerve transmissions that is affected by organophosphates, although the carbamate interference is generally of shorter duration. The carbamates include such chemicals as baygon and carbaryl.

The effects of carbamate poisoning are very similar to those of organophosphates. General malaise, muscle weakness, dizziness and sweating are common, as are headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In more serious cases, there may be incoordination, blurred vision, slurred speech, labored breathing and tightness of the chest. Death can result from the respiratory effects. There is also some concern about effects of some carbamates (e.g. carbaryl) on the fetus.


Roach-Wrecker Boric Acid Roach Killer; Zap-A-Roach Boric Acid Roach Killer; Drax Ant Kill Gel; Niban F-G Bait; PIC Boric Acid Roach Killer III; Knock-A-Roach Boric Acid; Stapleton's MRF 2000 Paste Formula


Black Jack Roach & Ant Killer IV; Raid Ant & Roach Killer 17; Raid Max Roach & Ant Killer 6; Hot Shot Roach & Ant Killer 6; Hot Shot Roach & Ant Killer 2; Raid Ant & Roach Killer (#6 & # 16); Raid Ant Killer 271; Raid Wasp & Hornet Killer 271; Raid Max Roach & Ant Killer; TAT Roach & Ant Killer w/Residual Action III; Tempo 20 WP Insecticide; Spectricide Pro Residual Insecticide Aerosol; CB Stinger Wasp & Hornet Jet Spray; Demand CS Insecticide; Hot Shot Flying Insect Killer Plus; Pegasus Ant & Roach Killer; Powerhouse Ant & Roach Killer; Powerhouse Ant & Roach Killer; Powerhouse House & Garden Bug Killer; PT 565 Plus Pyrethrum; Suspend SC Insecticide; Tempo 2 Insecticide

Pyrethroids are synthetic insecticides that are chemically similar to naturally occurring pyrethrins, but are modified to be more stable in the environment. They do not decompose as rapidly as the pyrethrins when exposed to light and heat. While the pyrethroids are generally considered to be "less toxic" choices for insect control, they are nonetheless capable of causing adverse reactions. Large doses of pyrethroids may cause nervous system effects such as incoordination, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea and irritability to sound and touch. More common than these extreme effects are sensations of stinging, burning, itching and tingling, which may progress to numbness. Although the pyrethroid-containing products commonly used for insect control in residential and institutional settings are general use products, some pyrethroid-containing products are classified as "restricted use pesticides" because of their potential to cause tumors or because of their extreme acute toxicity.


Combat Plus Roach Killing Gel; Maxforce Professional Insect Control Roach Killer; Siege Gel Bait; Maxforce Professional Insect Control Roach Killer Bait Gel

Based on the occurrence of lung tumors in laboratory animals exposed to hydramethylnon, EPA has classified hydramethylnon as a possible human carcinogen. Short-term exposure to hydramethylnon can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system.


Contrac All-Weather Blox; Contrac Rodenticide Ready to Use Place Pac; Maki Rodenticide Bait Packs; Talon G; Rozol Ready to Use Rat & Mouse Bait; Eaton's Blocks; Final All-Weather Blox

The rodenticides applied by institutions were primarily products which contained coumarins (bromadialone and brodifacoum) or inandiones (chlorphacinone and diphacinone) as active ingredients. The coumarins and inandiones are chemically related to each other, and have similar toxic effects. Both groups of chemicals are known as anticoagulants. They interfere with the blood's inability to clot while simultaneously disrupting the ability of capillaries, the body's smallest blood vessels, to contain the blood. This combination of toxic effects predisposes the rodent, or human, to widespread internal bleeding. Simply put, a child who swallowed a sufficient amount of these rodent poisons could bleed to death internally.

The report noted that even when the EPA has determined that a pesticide ingredient may cause cancer, it does not require that the product carry that message.

In addition to EPA approved products, residents also used "illegal" pesticides that are not registered with EPA or DEC, and some of which are registered as "restricted use" pesticides that can only be applied by certified pesticide applicators, and some which are registered with EPA for general use, but are not registered for use in New York State.

The report provided the following list of illegal products:

"Chinese Chalk" (Deltramethrin) - Illegally imported into the US, not registered by EPA

"Tres Pasitos" (Aldicarb) - (A restricted use product for use only by certified professionals)

Tempo 20 WP (Cyfluthrin) - (A restricted use product)

Prentox Diazinon 4E Insecticide (Diazinon, a restricted use product)

Black Flag Professional Power Ant & Roach Killer (Allethrin and Propoxur )*

Black Flag Fatal Attraction (Abamectin)*

Black Jack Fly & Mosquito Killer (Tetramethrin)*

Combat Ant & Roach Killer (Pyrethrins)*

Diaciclon F-7 (Pyrethrins)*

Knock A Roach (Boric Acid)*

Products marked with * are registered for consumer use by EPA but which cannot be sold or used in New York State.

Some of these products (e.g. "Chinese Chalk," "Tres Pasitos" and "Tempo 20WP) may be particularly toxic. The unregistered products have not been subjected to scrutiny and evaluation by the appropriate regulatory agencies, as required by law. Residents reported buying most of these products in local retail stores, although a few reported purchasing pesticides from street vendors and other sources.

The illegal pesticide "Chinese chalk," also known as "Miraculous Chalk" and "Insecticide Chalk, is illegally imported from China, and has both English and Chinese on the label. Although the packaging describes the chalk as "safe to use" and "harmless to human beings and animals," it is not, according to the report. Some tests have shown that the chalk contains Deltamethrin, which is considered by the EPA to be one of the most toxic pyrethroid insecticides. "Chinese Chalk" is a special problem because it looks like drawing chalk.

To give some idea of the toxicity of illegal pesticides, "Tres Pasitos," which is illegally imported form Mexico and other Latin American countries, means "three little steps," based on the belief that mice will only be able to take three little steps after eating it before they die. EPA considers Aldicarb, the active ingredient in Tres Pasitos, to be a very dangerous chemical that should never be used in a home setting, according to the report. When it is sprinkled around a home to control roaches, mice and rats, children might collect it on their fingers as they crawl on floors, or it might stick on a toy a child is playing with. The report cautioned that if enough Aldicarb is swallowed it can paralyze the respiratory system and cause death.

Tempo 20 WP is manufactured in the United States and registered as a "Restricted Use pesticide, which means that it can only be used properly trained and equipped pest control professionals. It contains Cyfluthrin, another pyrethroid insecticide, and is too dangerous to be used by untrained residents and illegal for anyone to sell it to unlicensed individuals.

It is chilling to imagine the effects of these kinds of pesticides building up in the urban and natural environment in which we all live and breathe, and beyond belief that they are knowingly included in ingredients for household use - where children, small animals and adult human beings live. They are sprayed inside apartments without adequate ventilation, and they are sprayed on lawns and land that contain wells - for drinking water - and on which children play. Their skin makes direct contact with the chemicals, their lungs breathe in the contents of the insecticide spray. Wildlife lives on plants and hedges and grass treated with toxic herbicides. These are not the landscapes of Beatrix Potter and children's book illustrators, and definitely not the safe, secure world of Winnie the Pooh that children believe them to be. Their trust that their home and their park or playground is a safe place is our responsibility. It is the cumulative effect of the pesticides in the different environments in which the child spends time that is cause for concern.

Who can forget the face of the mother in "Erin Brokovitch" whose child had developed tumors, and who suddenly realized what Erin was trying to tell her? That a lethal chemical on the lining of the water tanks serving their town was finding its way into their drinking water, and was causing tumors and cancer in dozens of children - including her own. It was not a coincidence, or happenstance.

When a product is not properly registered with both the Federal and the State agencies, the public cannot be assured that the product and the dangers associated with its use have been reviewed in light of the most current standards. For some of the products listed above, it might be easy for ordinary individuals to know that they are not registered. Every product registered with the EPA has a registration number on the label. It will appear as "EPA Reg" followed by a number. This lets you know that it was registered by the federal government. Unfortunately, Federal law prohibits states from changing the Federally accepted label, so there is no way for the consumer to know from the label whether a product is properly registered in New York State. If a product is registered by EPA for use only by certified pesticide applicators, it will say so on the label. Again, because DEC cannot mandate changes in a pesticide label, that will not be the case if the product is classified as "restricted use" by DEC and not EPA.

So what can be done right away to help our children, ourselves and the environment? The report offers the following suggestions:

"Although many institutions recognize the need to reduce their reliance on pesticides to control pests, children living in low-income urban housing developments are exposed to pesticides in and around their homes, in their school and at their neighborhood park. In some cities, children are potentially exposed to pesticides in all of these places - places where these children spend virtually all of their time."

The report accurately points out that "the potential for pesticide exposure is greatest in children's homes. Eight out of ten housing developments regularly applied pesticides inside apartments and in common areas. Additionally, and perhaps more troubling, the majority of residents we surveyed reported applying their own pesticides, including dangerous and illegal products, ofen with alarming frequency," and it adds that "Housing authorities clearly must do more to reduce their own use of pesticides, but they must also view residents as partners in pest control and give them the tools and education they need to address pest problems with non-toxic methods."

The New York State Attorney General's Office "encourages housing authorities, schools and parks to develop written pest management policies to establish an Integrated Pest Management program, use only certified pesticide applicators when and if any pesticide applications are deemed necessary, provide adequate written notice of pesticide applications and maintain publicly available records of pesticides used on site."

"Clear and unambiguous pest control policies are essential to an effective program designed to control pests and protect public health and the environment. Lacking a strong written policy, institutions may be more likely to resort to short-term chemical controls. All but two of the institutions we surveyed have not adopted written pest management policies, and the two policies that do exist (Syracuse Housing Authority and New York City Housing Authority) are substantially lacking in certain key areas."

The report clearly defines "Five Steps To Establishing An Integrated Pest Management Program":

Regularly inspect the premise to determine if pests are present and, if so, how they are getting in and where they are getting food and water

Take corrective measures to keep pests out and deny them hiding places, food and water.

Correctly identify the pests and, in light of the locations in which they are found, establish levels of control.

To eliminate pests, start with traps and other physical methods, or biological controls.

If chemical pesticides must be used, check the toxicity and exposure potential and choose the least toxic and those to which people are least likely to be exposed.

For those institutions (and individuals) who may think that giving up chemical pest control may result in less effective pest control, the report gives the following information: "Each of the institutions can, and should, adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policies designed to reduce, to the maximum extent possible, relience on chemical pesticides. While chemical pesticides offer short-term suppression of pest populations, IPM can provide long-term pest control and elimination. Based on an understanding of the biology of pests, and their needs and habits, IPM programs employ a variety of pest control methods, and in doing so, control the pest while minimizing the potential for adverse effects on human health and the environment. Such adverse effects might be associated with both pests and the methods used to control them. As an additional benefit, as IPM programs are implemented and the reliance on chemical pesticides reduced or eliminated, some of the other burdens on the institutions (the cost of the chemicals, posting, notification, access restrictions, and some record-keeping) may also be reduced and eliminated. With reduced reliance on chemical applications, the potential liability for adverse impacts is also reduced."

Regular inspections help to identify conditions that may allow pest infestations, any pests present, and delineation of a specific area, or areas, actually infested. Pest problems are more likely to occur if pests can get into the area of concern - for example an apartment, classroom or public playground. They may have hiding places within the area, and have easy access to food and water. Inspections for "pest friendly " conditions - not pesticide applications right away, should be made on a regular schedule "as the heart of the pest control program" the report recommends. In addition "Inspectors should be trained to recognize physical conditions and practices that might invite pest infestations and to prescribe corrective measures."

Denying "necessities" to the pest - like food and water, might include corrective measures like the installation of screen doors, door sweeps, repair of structural damage and improved sanitation. The report states "Important areas to seal are the spaces around pipes passing through the floor and spaces around kitchen cabinets. Also make sure hard-to-reach areas are clean and dry." "While others, such as maintenance crews, outside contractors or even residents, might be responsible for carrying out the prevention measures, the institution's pest control inspector or the resident (in his or her home), should follow up to confirm that the necessary work is completed," it continued.

Many people incorrectly assume that one roach or mouse, for example, is indicative of many, or do not distinguish between roaches, which are more likely to carry disease, and ants. Threshold levels should be established for each pest in each location or situation. Zero tolerance, while certainly appropriate in some situations, may not be necessary in all instances. While ants should not be tolerated in areas where food is prepared, some might be tolerable in non-public areas like boiler rooms and trash handling areas" notes the report.

Obviously, if pests start increasing and multiplying all over the place, something has to be done about it, and the report suggests a response with physical and mechanical controls before resorting to chemical ones: "If chemical controls measures become necessary, IPM programs weigh toxicity and exposure potential associated with the available chemicals, and select those which minimize the potential for adverse impacts while still controlling pests."

While it is not possible to address every single issue raised in the report, it is clear that a great deal can be done simply by having a strategy - whether domestic or institutional - to deal with pests that do not result in exposing children to toxins and carcinogens long before enough data has been gathered to understand their cumulative effect. Insecticide sprays and fogs appear to this reporter to be the most hazardous and threatening to the very young - not to mention adults and pets and the world around us. When children go out to play in a garden or at a basketbell court, they are confident that we, as adults, are taking care of their surroundings. Children are optimists; the garden, park or playground they run off enthusiastically to play in are, in their minds, the same ones they read about in "Winnie the Pooh," "The Hungry Caterpillar" and Beatrix Potter's many tales of adorable creatures romping about in nature. Without wishing to disturb that beautiful image, we as adults now know without a shadow of a doubt - thanks to this up-front and honest report - that the innocent looking insecticide spray cans we use to get rid of wasps and ants, may be causing them untold harm in the years to come.

The Government must do their job, and we must do ours, to protect children - and all of us - from harmful chemical pesticides. Legislation takes time and the involvement of concerned citizens, and this report is a sign that notice has been taken, in New York State at least, and that steps are being taken to prevent the use of harmful pesticides. In the meantime, the buck stops with each individual, or institution, that is responsible for the safety of children, and that means immediately screening the pesticides being used in all areas of your child's daily life, beginning in the closest place of all - at home.

Don't be trusting if your pest control professional, an institution - or the manufacturer's label - tells you that the name of the pesticide that is about to be used around your child is called something cute and generic like "Source Kill" or "Powerhouse Flying Insect Killer." Find out what pesticides are responsible for killing a roach or wasp or rodent in three minutes, because there is a lot more at stake - and check that urge to spray the heck out of an ant hill with a pesticide in a cute red can if your child plays near it. Think protectively. Be informed. Be cautious.

The report has a long list of some products used by institutions and residents that contain possible and probable carcinogens.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was featured on the cover of the September edition of Fortune magazine, with the caption "The Enforcer."

The report also provides some contact information:

New York State Attorney General's Office, 212-416-8446 or 518-486-455-, or

The New York State IPM Program, which is associated with the Cornell Cooperation Extension, has material on evicting mice and other suggestions on rodent control at 800-635-8356 or

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has a free pamphlet on pest control at 518-402-8781, which can also be downloaded at

The Northwest Coalition for Alternative Pesticides has factsheets that are available at 541-344-5044 or

The New York Coalition for Alternatives for Pesticides has a website at

Beyond Pesticides can be reached at 202-543-5450 and has a website at

"Harvest of Innocence," a book on coping with risky behavior by Michele Leight, is at and at

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