State budget battle looms over pesticide rules

Researchers studying the correlation between pesticide use and Researchers studying the correlation between pesticide use and disease rely on accurate reporting of pesticide use. Photo Credit: iStock

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A showdown over how pesticides are tracked is brewing between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office and environmental and health advocates, as well as lawmakers who are upset at regulation changes in the proposed state budget.

Thirty-eight groups have signed a letter to legislative leaders protesting a proposal in the governor's budget that strips away the requirement that commercial applicators report where pesticides are used, what kind and how much.

The proposal also rolls back a requirement that the state Department of Environmental Commission issue an annual report on pesticide use.

"It will impede the public's ability to learn about toxic chemical uses where they work, live and play," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.

The changes are part of Cuomo's proposed budget and include the establishment of a permanent pesticide registration fee. Rather than relying on reports from applicators, the regulation would change to require sales be recorded at the register and reported to the state.

"The budget seeks to replace the current inoperable system with a new statewide reporting requirement that collects pesticide data at the point of sale, which will improve the accuracy and usability of information," Division of Budget spokesman Morris Peters said.

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The regulation requiring pesticide reporting was passed in 1996 as a means to provide researchers with a way to explore the connection between pesticide use and disease, said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), the chief sponsor.

"I was very disappointed to see this in the budget, disappointed from a public health perspective," he said. "If adopted, it would make the law fundamentally unworkable and defeat its purpose. . . . This would turn it into an exercise that would have no meaning."

The current law allows researchers to gain access confidentially to pesticide use for analysis. It also made publicly available summary use information people could request down to the ZIP code level, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

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Under the change, an annual summary will be released detailing sales -- not use -- by county. But where things are sold are not necessarily where they are used, which could foul long-term data useful in cancer and other medical research, Englebright said.

"It obviously significantly reduces the ability of researchers and investigators to figure these things out," said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst).

If passed, Esposito said, "We would no longer know how much was applied and where."

Despite the annual requirement that the DEC issue a report detailing use, the last one issued covers the year 2005 and comes with a note warning users that Cornell University, which maintained the database, and the state had concerns about the quality of the data.

It's another reason for the change, state officials said. "Due to serious and extensive data quality issues in pesticide use reporting, DEC has had to closely review and correct all submitted data," DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said. "Until this review and updates are complete, the reports cannot be confirmed to be accurate."

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