(Beyond Pesticides, April 19, 2007) On April 12, a federal judge signed a settlement agreement in which New York City admits that the pesticides it sprayed may indeed be dangerous to human health as well as to the natural environment. For seven years, the No Spray Coalition, Beyond Pesticides and others have battled the City of New York in Federal Court in opposition to the Giuliani administration’s massive and indiscriminate spraying of toxic pesticides, including the organophosphate malathion.
The settlement agreement states that, contrary to the City’s prior statements, pesticides may remain in the environment beyond their intended purpose, cause adverse health effects, kill mosquitoes’ natural predators, increase mosquito resistance to the sprays, and are not presently approved for direct application to waterways.
Mitchel Cohen, the coordinator of the No Spray Coalition and an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit, sees the settlement agreement as a “tremendous victory” for health and environmental advocates.
“Thousands of New Yorkers were made seriously sick by the spraying,” said Mr. Cohen. “A number of members of our coalition, including several of the plaintiffs, died from pesticide-related illnesses. Many suffer from multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or asthma caused or exacerbated by the spraying. We are very glad that the new City administration has to some degree acknowledged that pesticides are extremely dangerous to human health. They need to be rejected as a way of killing mosquitoes.” He added that the use of insect repellents containing DEET should never be used, especially on children.
Another plaintiff in the lawsuit, Robert Lederman, noted that in 1999 and 2000, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other City officials claimed that the spraying was “safe” and was used as “a last resort” in its effort to kill mosquitoes said to be vectors for West Nile encephalitis.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, Joel Kupferman of the NY Environmental Law and Justice Project, and Karl Coplan and Daniel Estrin of PACE Environmental Litigation Clinic, announced that as part of the settlement the City agreed to pay $80,000 to five grassroots environmental and wildlife rehabilitation groups and meet with the plaintiffs in several sessions to review an extensive list of concerns that the No Spray Coalition provided. The plaintiffs are not permitted, under the terms of the Clean Water Act, to receive a monetary settlement themselves.
The Coalition says that the resolution of the lawsuit begins a new phase in its activities. In its letter of concerns to the City, which is an attachment to the lawsuit settlement, the Coalition seeks to win official approval for its proposed “Community Environment and Health Council,” with members drawn from the plaintiffs, the City, health care professionals, environmental organizations, advocacy groups, non-toxic pesticide applicators and other pesticide-conscious parties.
The Environment and Health Council would make recommendations on environmental health impacts of pesticide use and alternatives; hear from neurotoxicologists, neuropsychologists, non-toxic pest control experts, wildlife rehabilitators; analyze toxicological samplings; and submit findings to review by occupational and environmental health case providers and advocates. It would also sponsor public meetings before pesticides are used, at which the Department of Health and other public officials would be available to answer questions.
Mr. Cohen believes the terms of the settlement agreement are helpful to those fighting against pesticide spraying elsewhere. “Indeed, we consulted with many organizations not only in the U.S. but in Canada and Mexico as well,” Mr. Cohen said, “and we negotiated clauses in the Agreement with other locales in mind.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were the No Spray Coalition, Beyond Pesticides, Disabled in Action, Save Organic Standards – New York (by its president, Howard Brandstein), and individual plaintiffs Valerie Sheppard (deceased), Mitchel Cohen, Robert Lederman, and Eva Yaa Asantewaa.
TAKE ACTION: For responsible, safer and smarter control of mosquitoes and vector-borne diseases in your community see Beyond Pesticides’ Mosquito Activist page at www.beyondpesticides.org/mosquito/activist/index.htm. To view the decision see www.nospray.org/documents/Press_Release_2007_Settlement.pdf.