Basil Seggos, commissioner of New York State's Department of Environmental...

Basil Seggos, commissioner of New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation Credit: James Carbone

New York state collected nearly 220,000 pounds of unused pesticides and chemicals in New York City and Long Island from farmers and commercial pesticide users at July collection events, shattering previous collection records, officials said.

The collection events, billed as CleanSweepNY and launched in 2002 by the Department of Environmental Conservation, are held periodically to dispose of unwanted pesticides and other chemicals. Of the chemicals turned over to the DEC at July events, a whopping 191,512 pounds were pesticides, along with smaller amounts of flammable liquids, motor oil and other chemicals, a DEC spokesperson told Newsday.

CleanSweepNY collects unused or expired chemicals from farmers and all New York State-certified pesticide applicators, including cemeteries, golf courses, landscapers and marinas. The latest round included paint, aerosol cans, propane cylinders and fluorescent light bulbs. The DEC held collection drives in Queens, Riverhead and Melville.

This was the first New York City collection event in almost 20 years. The last collection occurred on Long Island in 2019, a DEC spokesperson said. 

"DEC is pleased so many farmers, businesses and institutions in the region are participating in this critical work to help build a toxic-free future for New York State," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. 

The events provide commercial pesticide users an easy way to dispose of their unwanted and expired chemicals for free, which might otherwise be costly and time-consuming, said Nora Catlin, the agriculture program director at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. Commercial users undergo training, including an exam, to learn proper pesticide use and storage techniques, she said.

“Making it easy and making it free really encourages people. … That way growers know that they can remove this pesticide from their inventory,” she said, adding that it also encourages users to routinely go through their supplies and take stock of unwanted chemicals. 

The CleanSweepNY project is spearheaded by the DEC's pesticides management program to properly dispose of potentially harmful chemicals. The DEC contracts with a vendor, who collects the materials and transports them to storage and disposal facilities, a spokesperson said. 

When applicants hang onto outdated pesticides, it creates the risk of unintentionally using expired products or possible contamination if the containers leak, Catlin said, adding that the use of pesticides for licensed users is highly regulated with safeguards in place to minimize and contain leaks. 

“It’s a careful process of having the product approved for use and being allowed to use the product,” she said. 

At the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Catlin’s team works with applicators and provides education on the best and safest use of pesticides while minimizing environmental impact, she said. There, they enable farmers to become judicious users of pesticides for their crops. She said she advocates for “integrated pest management or integrated crop management, which looks at all things, not just one product that’s going to solve your problem, but more of a process and an approach to keeping your plants healthy.” 

More and more scrutiny is placed on the use of pesticides and their effects on the environment, especially on Long Island where there is a fear of chemicals leaching into the ground because of sandy soil. Catlin said pesticide alternatives are constantly evolving. Lately, farmers have turned to pheromone disrupters to control insect populations, she said, as well as natural, plant-derived products. 

“The more of those that you can incorporate into your production, that means the more pesticides that you can reduce,” she said. “Just thinking of pesticides as a very necessary tool, but just one tool in your toolbox.”

CleanSweepNY By the Numbers

  • 191,512 pounds                Pesticides                                                    
  • 10,815 pounds                  Paint                                                               
  • 5,924 pounds                    Flammable and non-flammable liquids      
  • 245 pounds                       Motor oil                                                             
  • 11,335 pounds                  Other chemicals (lab packs, aerosol cans, propane cylinders, etc.)

Source: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation