Are Pesticides Safe?
Why Go Pesticide-Free?
How to Maintain Pesticide-Free Lawns and Gardens
Resources: Articles, Land Care Professionals, Links
Hall of Fame
Pesticide Notification Registry
State Falling Short In Keeping Track Of Pesticide Use
From: The Hartford Courant
DEEP Lacks Resources To Monitor Toxic Chemicals.
Lacking the staff and funding, state environmental officials say they have no way to regularly monitor or measure the approximately 11,000 pesticides registered for use in Connecticut.
A review of Connecticut's environmental records, based on a request under the state Freedom of Information Act, indicates that numerous licensed pesticide applicators often ignore legal requirements to provide annual reports on what chemicals they're using and how much. Others leave out critical information. Still more of these paper reports have been misfiled or lost as the state attempts to revise its record-keeping.
Thousands of tons of herbicides and pesticides, some highly toxic, are being applied each year to lawns, school grounds, playing fields, along roads, on parks, gardens, farmland, trees, shrubs and in buildings. The ranks of state-licensed pesticide applicators have been steadily growing, and today number more than 2,800.
But Connecticut's pesticide regulation unit is 25 percent smaller today than it was a decade ago.
Officials at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is responsible for regulating pesticides, said they've never had enough staff to actually review the reports.
"There are definitely issues with the quality, completeness and accessibility of those reports," DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said. He said the agency wants to computerize the paper records and reports and require electronic filings so the pesticide information can be of some use, but adds that no decision has been made about when to do it.
"The system is flawed and is not adequately protecting the public," said Dr. Jerome Silbert, executive director of the Watershed Partnership, an environmental watchdog group based in Connecticut.
"It's partially government inefficiency; partially that the legislature is not really grounded in what is important to know … and industry doesn't care because no one is penalizing them for not filing these reports," Silbert said.
"It's bad," Sen. Ed Meyer said of the problems with pesticide monitoring. "That's part of the problem with an agency that's understaffed." Meyer, a Guilford Democrat, is co-chair of the legislature's environment committee, and he said the issue of DEEP funding is a sore point.
"The environment committee has made this a priority virtually every year of the last 10 years," Meyer said. "We have struck out … One of the agencies that takes the biggest hits when we're running a state deficit is always the DEEP."
"We'll take another shot at it this year," Meyer said. "The environment committee, at my urging, will request additional funding for the purposes of enforcement staffing."
It's not only environmentalists who are upset about the holes in the state's pesticide monitoring program. Even the people who are supposed to be reporting on the pesticides they are using are frustrated.
Licensed pesticide applicators are angry because they say the state isn't doing enough to enforce laws against unscrupulous, untrained, fly-by-night operators that are illegally using these chemicals, according to Erica Fearn.
Fearn is executive director of the Connecticut Environmental Council, a group representing lawn-care companies, landscapers, groundskeepers and other businesses and public officials that use pesticides. She said DEEP lacks the money and staff it needs to enforce state laws.
"The DEEP is terribly underfunded," Fearn said. "Our state government has been hit so hard [by budget woes] that our compliance folks are just running around… there's not enough of them." The result is that unlicensed operators are often stealing business from legitimate pesticide applicators, according to Fearn.
Fearn acknowledged that some pesticide applicators may not be paying too much attention to state reporting requirements because they know they won't get caught.
"If you're going down the highway, and if the speed limit is 65 but everyone is passing you, maybe everyone else is breaking the law because there's no one to stop them," she said.
Schain said the agency "tries to do the best and most we can with what we have." He also agreed that legitimate businesses "that are playing by the rules are losing out in the marketplace" to illegal competitors.
"I think it's incontrovertible that there are several programs in DEEP that don't have enough staff to do everything they're supposed to do," said Karl Wagener, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality. He called the problems within that agency "a chronic issue."
Silbert, of the Watershed Partnership, pointed out that even if all the commercial pesticide users complied with existing reporting laws, and even if the state reviewed and added up the figures, that still wouldn't provide an accurate picture of pesticide use. For example, no one keeps track of the tens of thousands of homeowners using pesticides and herbicides on their lawns and gardens.
Monitoring homeowner pesticide use would be a monumental task, and Silbert said he doubts any state was able to do an accurate job of that. "The only way to track it would be to find out how much pesticide is being sold ... and you wouldn't know how much is actually being put down, only what's being sold," he said.
Pesticide use and abuse is a hot issue across the nation, touching on controversies ranging from bee-colony collapse, to crops that are genetically modified to withstand weed-killing chemicals, to water-quality concerns.
In Connecticut, there's now an annual legislative debate over banning pesticides from school grounds and other areas where children can be exposed. Fishermen blame anti-mosquito pesticides for the catastrophic decline of lobsters in Long Island Sound. Experts say concern about pesticides is one reason for the rapid growth in organic food sales here.
Although the state's reporting system makes it impossible to accurately know how much pesticide is being used in Connecticut, available records indicate there are massive amounts involved.
Available information from reports that have been filed in recent years indicates that the amounts and types of pesticides and herbicides can vary wildly depending on the applicator. The most commonly used herbicides and fertilizers tend to be far less toxic than many insecticides, for example, and the amounts used at one golf course can be vastly different from the applications at another.
Approximately 11,000 pesticides and herbicides are registered for use in Connecticut. The 17-page state list begins with a popular weed-killer called 2,4-D AMINE 4, and ends with Zythor, a powerful chemical used to fumigate buildings infested with termites, cockroaches or rats.
Brad Robinson, head of DEEP's pesticide section, said there is no way his nine-person staff can routinely check on the operations of the 1,072 registered pesticide businesses. The state also issues licenses for pesticide use to certified individuals and public officials.
"We don't have time to look at every pesticide used and say this one or that one doesn't look right," Robinson said.
Robinson said he'd be delighted to have an electronic filing and record system that would enable his unit to check whether pesticides being reported are federally certified and approved. A computerized reporting system would also let state officials see trends in pesticide use and head off potential abuse.
DEEP is planning to computerize the pesticide-reporting system at some point, but Robinson said he doesn't know when that will happen – and neither do the department's top officials.
"We are focused on continuing to modernize the agency and to take advantage of 21st century technology," said Schain, and pointed out that DEEP recently got $6 million in new funding for upgrading its filing systems. "We have not set a time for dealing with those pesticide reports."