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Farmers cry foul on pesticide ban bill; environmentalists praise legislation

A sign warns of the application of the

A sign warns of the application of the pesticide Lorsban, which includes chlorpyrifos, in a California orange grove. Lawmakers this week in Albany passed a bill banning chlorpyrifos. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo/Jim West

State lawmakers have passed a sweeping series of environmental bills, including a ban on a pesticide used to fight cabbage maggots and a bill to regulate toxic chemicals found in children’s products, but farmers and chemical manufacturers said the bills will hurt businesses and cost jobs if signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo into law.

Environmentalists praised the legislation passed Monday in Albany by the Senate and Assembly as groundbreaking. That includes the first step in a multi-year process to change the state constitution to guarantee the right to clean air and water. They said it reflected the newfound Democratic control in the Senate, where Republicans had blocked similar bills in recent years.

"A decade's worth of work was done," said Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly's environment committee.

The pesticide chlorpyrifos has been linked to impaired brain development in children and lower IQs, and declines in pollinators such as bees, according to researchers.

"This is a serious, serious problem and it hasn’t been managed in an honorable manner at a national level. It falls to the states," Englebright said.

But Long Island farm representatives said the ban of the pesticide, used most frequently on cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts on Long Island, will hurt farmers during a time when Suffolk County farmland has been dwindling.

Many farmers will have to switch to less-profitable crops, predicted Rob Carpenter, administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

"There's no good alternative to fight cabbage maggots. Now you’re allowing this pest to come in and decimate crops," Carpenter said.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate's environment committee and co-sponsor of the bills, said there are safer alternatives to chlorpyrifos, and scientists are working on more alternatives.

"They're getting other products to market that we hope are much greener with far less toxicity, but accomplish the same thing," he said.

Another major bill, the Child Safe Product Act, would regulate some chemicals and ban  others in children's products, including toys, clothing and furniture.

Manufacturers of children's products would have to disclose the presence of a large list of toxic chemicals in products for children 12 years and younger. A smaller list of toxic chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead would be banned from children's products.

"As a parent of a 10-month-old, the idea you can walk into a store and not know one product from another in terms of child safety is disturbing," Kaminsky said.

A coalition called New York Businesses United for Product Safety, which includes chemical manufacturers, opposed the bill.

“The legislation would establish a burdensome, unworkable chemical regulatory program that is not necessary," the group said in a statement. "New York cannot afford to lose even more jobs across the entire manufacturing sector and shut out large employers to the state."

Health experts, though, said the bans would improve the health of New Yorkers, particularly children.

The bill "protects the health and lives and intelligence of New York's children for generations to come," Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and founding director at the program in Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College, said in an interview.

A letter he wrote in support of the ban said children are particularly susceptible to exposure to harmful chemicals. "While many of these everyday exposures to toxic chemicals in consumer products produce no obvious disease in children, they silently erode children's intelligence, shorten their attention spans, reduce their future reporoductive potential, and increase the risk that our children will develop chronic diseases when they reach adult life," he wrote.

Both the Farm Bureau and American Chemistry Association said they would be lobbying Cuomo to veto the bills.

Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall pointed to bans on plastic bags and offshore drilling as signs of "the most aggressive environmental agenda in the nation."

"As for these bills, we will review them,” he said in a statement.

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif defended Senate Republicans' environmental record, including providing funding for infrastructure products and notifications on the use of pesticides at schools.

"Protecting the environment and keeping children safe is critically important, as is listening to how any piece of legislation will effect a business' ability to create new jobs and keep its workers employed," he wrote in a statement.

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