January 9, 2002
Contact: Neal Lewis
New Neighbor Notification Law Encourages Schools to Use Safer Alternatives to Pesticides
A preliminary survey of Long Island schools has found that most Long Island public school districts are complying with the notice requirements in the new Neighbor Notification of Pesticide Spraying Law, and that a number of schools are responding to the incentives in the law to use safer, less toxic pest control products and practices. "We have heard from school officials that they are changing their pest control programs to reduce or eliminate pesticide use that would have to be reported under the new law," said Neal Lewis, Executive Director of the Long Island Neighborhood Network, an environmental and public advocacy organization that supported passage of the pesticide notice law.
There has, however, been inconsistent compliance with the timing of the first required notice detailing pesticide use. "Parents should be receiving in their mailboxes this week a detailed report of pesticides used at their children's schools since the beginning of the school year. Unfortunately, some parents may find their mailboxes empty since as many as 50% of schools contacted indicated confusion about when the notice is due, and apparently have not yet sent the notices out." said Mr. Lewis.
Inconsistent compliance with the new law is in part due to confusion over how schools define "Winter Recess." The law says a notice must go out within two days of the end of Winter Recess which the State Department of Education has defined as the break around New Year's Day, but some local school officials say their school defines winter recess as the break in February.
Background of Law's Notice Requirements
The 48 Hour Neighbor Notice Law regarding pesticide spraying was signed into law by Governor Pataki in August 2000. It requires commercial applicators to give written notice to neighbors in adjacent properties to any residence they are treating with chemical pesticides. The law also includes notice provisions pertaining to schools which went into effect in summer of 2001, making the current school year the first in which schools are required to comply. All schools, both public and private, now must:
- provide notice at the beginning of the school year that informs parents and staff that pesticides may be used, that they can be put on a list of names to receive prior notice of pesticide use, and the name and phone number of the contact person to get more information about pesticide use;
- maintain a list of people who request prior notice of pesticide use, and provide them with notice 48 hours prior to application of pesticides; and
- provide three notices throughout the school year that report pesticides applied since the last notice, and remind people of the registry. The first of these notices is now due.
Winter Notice Due this Week
The first of the three notices detailing any pesticide use, and reminding parents and staff about the registry, was required to be sent out within 2 days of the end of winter break which for most schools was January 4th. The remaining two notices must be sent within 2 days of the end of spring recess, and within ten days of the end of the school year. These notices must state the name and EPA registration number of each product used. This information empowers parents to get more involved in urging their school to adopt toxics-free maintenance programs. The law allows for exemptions from the notice requirements when less hazardous products such as boric acid, silica gels, food-based repellents such as mint oil, and nonvolatile baits in tamper-resistant bait stations are used.
So, did schools comply? Yes and no.
Besides several schools not realizing that the first summary notice was due last week, some others did send out the two notices required so far but failed to include all of the correct information. For example, one school omitted mention of the registry and contact person, and simply stated, "Please be aware that the School District does not use pesticides." This denies parents their legal right to be placed on a registry in the event that an emergency chemical use takes place. Another school representative did not know that the law also applied to pesticides used on school athletic fields where children play, and not just to the pesticides used indoors for "structural" pest control.
Overall, Law Helps Raise Awareness
On the positive side, many schools are aware of the requirements and are implementing successful Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs which minimize or eliminate pesticide use. IPM includes good sanitation, exclusion methods such as caulking, and monitoring, with pest control products used only as a last resort. Also, the law names a certain list of safer, less hazardous products and methods that are not subject to the notice requirements--thus providing further incentive to move away from the use of toxics in areas where children spend so much time during the day. All schools contacted but one are maintaining a registry of people who opted for the 48 hour prior notice.
Some of the school districts with very successful programs include Baldwin (which has been a leader in chemical-free pest control for many years), and Locust Valley, and may also include Wantagh, Southold, and Port Washington.
"The encouraging part is that there are so many new, safer alternatives to toxic pesticides now than there were even a few years ago," said Lewis, a long time advocate of "organic" approaches to turf maintenance that involve building up healthy soil and enhancing microbial life to balance out diseases and pests. In November, the Neighborhood Network held workshops on using less hazardous, alternative pest control methods, for school districts employees. Representatives of thirty-four school districts from Nassau and Suffolk attended the workshops, which were held in three locations around Long Island. Many schools contract out their pest control, and companies are emerging with expertise in IPM to meet the demand. All these new efforts and innovations hopefully indicate good things in terms of reducing our children's toxic exposures.
To receive more information about school notice requirements or alternatives to toxic pesticides, contact Neighborhood Network at 631-963-5454.