1 March ‘05

An open letter to my customers,

This is being sent to my customers who have requested pesticide applications on their properties last season for either turf or ornamental (tree & shrub) treatments. You’ve no doubt heard on the radio, seen on the television or read in the newspaper that a new law is currently being considered by Monroe County which would require professional pesticide applicators to notify (in writing) all your neighbors within 150’ of your property, no earlier than 48 hours prior to having a scheduled pesticide (spray) treatment applied to your property.

I want to address just how this proposed law really would effect us...

This notification effort doesn’t just reflect your neighbors on each side of you, but also rear borders and ‘touching’ corners lots. With regards to smaller lots where houses are closer together, the 150’ distant requirement could possibly mean notifying homes across the street, two doors down, etc. This being the case, it could mean notifying up to 8 to 14 separate properties to remain in compliance with this law when making just one simple application. (Imagine having to go through this red tape when having to make a simple 5 minute application, or having to deal with ‘multiple resident dwellings’ neighbors' like apartment houses, condominiums, office buildings,etc.)

The resulting scheduling problems are even more problematic. To make safe and effective applications, I’m always at the mercy of the weather. Rain or the threat of rain and especially wind have often made scheduling timely applications difficult. Very often on days when intending to address my pest control jobs, I’ve been unable to proceed because of unacceptable wind conditions or the threat of rainfall. On those days, I have no choice but to leave my sprayer at the shop. To predict these conditions two days in advance (to be able to provide 48 hour notification to a neighbor) would be next to impossible. I never know if I’ll be able to safely make applications until that morning when I look out the window and/or listen to the weather forecast for that day! (If anybody is aware of a weather service that offers a wind velocity/direction forecast for two days in the future, IÕd love to hear about it!) Lastly, how about the risk of contractors feeling forced to make an application during Ōless then idealÕ conditions, just to attempt to meet their 48 hour projection?

Also, in some cases, having to wait two days before being able to apply a treatment can cause unacceptable damage to a plant. If adverse weather conditions cause the necessity for rescheduling but waiting for the next 48 hour ‘window of opportunity’, this problem would certainly multiply. For example, in the control of 'Fire Blight' (Erwintia amylovora), a serious bacteria infection that attacks some of our flowering ornamental trees and shrubs, it is essential that a bactericide (streptomycin) be applied within 24 hours following a hail storm during the blossoming period.

Remember, these written notices will be going both ways. Not only will any necessary applications you require, force notification letters in your neighbors’ mailboxes but when your neighbors have a scheduled application on their property, their notices will be in your mailbox. All season long... Or maybe these notices will be stuck in your door. If this is the case, get ready for strangers walking up to your house multiple times during the season. Now, take a look at how many properties actually ‘touch’ your borders...

The additional effort to contractors will have multiple effects. Many companies will simply stop offering pesticide application services (I think this is the real goal of the groups advocating this law.) The cost of pest management services is bound to increase. And (most concerning) I worry that some companies will fall back to the dark ages with their method of applying pesticides. Instead of dealing with the detailed target I.P.M. (Integrated Pest Management) method of pest control, which stresses the use of very focused products that target only the problem and leave beneficial organisms unaffected, they might go back to applying stronger, broad spectrum pesticides. This way, they’ll still get the job done, but will be able to do it in fewer trips to reduce these forced notification efforts.

The proposed law will not exempt ‘do it yourself’ applicators either! If you apply your own pesticide spray products, you’ll be required to place notification signs along your borders and are (currently) ‘encouraged’ to notify your neighbors in writing. (How long before you think that this ‘encouraged’ will be legally changed to ‘required’?) And yes, failure to comply could result in legal fines.

But what about pesticide risks? How real is it?

The news media has mentioned many times the link between (breast) cancer and pesticide use. The fact is that this has been extensively studied in NYS by independent sources since 1996 and the conclusion is that no connection has been found between (breast) cancer occurrences and turf & ornamental(*) pesticide use in New York state. At the conclusion of every season, every commercial applicator is required to send in detailed reports from mandated data recording sheets completed at the time of application, showing collected data regarding EVERY application made; i.e., date, material used, amount of concentrate applied, the street address, town & zip code, etc.

This data is added to a state database and after seven years of collecting data, it was compared with state wide occurrences of breast cancer. The results? No connection! These results are not coming from our industry, but from independent sources.  

Also note that the top five liquid pesticide products used in NYS were not even sourced from turf & ornamental uses, but from swimming pool maintenance chemicals and the building trades (wood preservatives).

* I can only mention ‘turf & ornamental’ products here as I’m unable to speak for pesticides sourced from the agricultural industry. And remember, agricultural products are applied to the foods that you are consuming everyday, not like the insignificant residues left on your turf & ornamentals, which have been developed to break down in a few days. The fresh produce on display in our grocery stores, is only 'perfect looking' because of the use of pesticides. For example: apple production normally requires a pesticide application approximately every 10 days from bud break to harvest.

Perhaps the advocates that are concerned about adverse health effects from pesticide exposure regarding turf & ornamental applications, should test us applicators who have up to10,000x more exposure while applying compared to what’s left after our application has dried on the target. But, the fact is that applicators have not shown any increased health risks! I’ve been a active commercial applicator as part of my arboriculture services for over thirty years now and I certainly consider myself healthy. (How many other 55 year old professional tree climbers to you know of?)

Why is this happening?

Seven years ago, there was an alleged complaint from a homeowner in Monroe County who claimed to have had pesticides drift into her open window from a commercial applicator making an application next door on a windy day. An investigation was performed by both the board of health and the DEC, and her complaint was found to have no merit. The board of health concluded that no additional action or testing was necessary. It also was not an excessively windy day. And the company involved was exonerated. The application made was a spot treatment for chinch bugs by a company known for practicing I.P.M.

However, if this complaint had merit, it would be important to note here that the applicator would have been breaking the law!
NYS DEC Rules and Regulations; Pesticide Control Regulations; Article 33, Part 325, Section 325.2; Application of Pesticides; Requirements for the use of pesticides.
(a) Pesticides must be used in such a manner and under such wind and other conditions as to prevent contamination of people, pets, fish, wildlife, crops, property, structures, lands, pasturage or waters adjacent to the area of use.

The current fines for this offense can be been $5,000 &/or 1 year imprisonment. (ENFORCEMENT OF ARTICLE 33; Section 71-2907; section 3)

(When Andrew Doniger, the Monroe County Health Director, was asked publicly, exactly how many incidents of drift complaints he has received over the past several years, his response was none, & that it has not been an issue... )

My point is that if commercial applicators are in compliance of the (current) law, neighbors’ properties should be a moot point! It is unlawful to allow pesticides to drift beyond the customers property boundaries in the first place! And this law is enforced by NYS DEC. With the proposed county 48 hr. neighbor notification law, if passed, the expense of enforcement would be on our local Monroe County Health Department. Does anybody believe that having to budget in a law that supposedly safeguards people from an already unlawful activity is wise spending of our county’s tax dollars?

Speaking of tax dollars, the Democrat and Chronicle had an article last fall (10/18/04) regarding our county having a projected $18.1 million budget gap for 2006. So is it wise to consider enacting legislation that will be an additional tax burden for the county & also may drive businesses out of town?

Note that only 7 out of our 62 counties in NYS have adopted this regrettable law since it was initiated in 2000. (It started in the Long Island area where the region’s much higher water table makes it a hotbed for sensitive environment issues.)

Why use pesticides at all?

‘Gardens’ by definition are controlled environments. Most of the shrubs & many of the ornamental trees on your property are not native to our county, or even our country!. Our modern turf grass culture is also not natural to our area. Our local environment would have appeared much different 300 years ago. Imported plant diseases, insect pests and invasive plant materials (weeds) that would never have been here before our county was settled are now commonplace. Caring for properties to maintain plant health, beauty and property values can be a challenge. I believe that responsible and ethical use of pesticides to be just one of the effective tools we have at our disposal to achieve this end.

And, the pesticide industry has done a effective job moderating itself over the years. No longer are persistent products allowed. Pesticides are now much more target orientated. Newer, safer products are being developed. Applicators are expected to adhere to higher professional standards. Training, licensing, insurance requirements have all followed suit. This proposed law threatens these advances. Contractors could very well feel forced to look to broad spectrum products and make more ‘blanket’ applications so as to make fewer trips. This way, attempting to achieve similar results for their customers and avoid the unreasonable logistics of the 48 hr. neighbor notification less often during the season.

On a somewhat lesser note, consider what this could mean regarding personal freedom and privacy issues. Do you really want to support a law that might ‘set a precedent’ that could force you to notify your neighbors when you perform other possible activities that they might find offensive someday? (I.E., Mowing your lawn, barbecuing with charcoal, painting your house, sealing your driveway, etc...)

Nonetheless, I also believe there’s room for improvement within the (turf & ornamental) pest management industry. I believe we must take steps to eliminate the antiquated practice of applying pesticide treatments as an act of maintenance, rather then scouting and determining if an infestation exceeds an acceptable level of damage and merits an application (I.P.M.). Too many companies (especially in turf care) still apply their pest controls to entire properties, instead of only treating the necessary affected areas. Often with the I.P.M. method, scouting efforts conclude that an application is simply not needed. Efforts made to achieve this end would have much more positive impact compared to this neighbor notification proposal.

OK. Are there reasonable options to this proposal?

YES! Our industry has suggested an alternative (Adjacent Voluntary Neighbor Notification Program) to make it a requirement that all commercial applicators provide the immediate neighbors, each side of the customer with a written letter, which would explain their options and provide them with a returnable response card. Please visit my web site: www.lovearboreal.com ( 48 hour Neighbor Notification Issue/ Suggested Notification Option) to view an example of a sample voluntary response card that would be given to your adjacent neighbors for their responses regarding if & how they wish to be notified of any treatment your property receives.
The responses we receive from these notices would be collected and placed on a ‘voluntary register’ county database. Applicators would be required to review this register prior to making any future application to determine if their client has any neighbors that require pre notification.

In closing, the media is attempting to make this into a battle between environmentalist & commercial applicators. I’ve spent the last 35 years of my life professionally dedicated to the care of plants and gardens.

I take exception to anybody who dares imply that I’m not an environmentalist!!

Time is of the utmost importance here. This proposal is going to be voted on in a matter of weeks. If in good conscience, you agree that this proposed law should be voted down, I’d ask that you sign the enclosed petition and forward it to your local legislator. A phone call or letter personally expressing your views would even be more effective and appreciated.

I have provided a pre addressed envelope to your local legislator (& petition copies) for your use.

And please visit my web site & invite any others you may know who are concerned about this issue to do so.

Thank you.


Thomas A. Ewart,
owner; Love Arboreal