We were stunned last week to learn that Suffolk led by a huge margin among all of the counties in New York in pesticide and herbicide use. Immediately, we wondered to what extent the 6.5 million pounds of chemical compounds applied annually have harmful effects on people’s health and the environment. Farming obviously plays a part, but it seems lawns are the thing; Westchester came in second, at 2.8 million pounds per year.
A lot of attention recently has been focused on glyphosate, which is one of the ingredients in the herbicide Roundup, and whether early childhood exposure is linked to liver inflammation and metabolic disorders later in life, which in turn, could lead to liver cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Measured by volume, of the top 10 herbicides used professionally in Suffolk, ones containing glyphosate are found in six. And clearly, these chemicals are getting into our bodies; exposure to pesticides by the general population is ubiquitous via food, water, work, use in the home and office, and other routes, including living close to where they are deployed. Links to breast cancer and other illnesses have been suggested.
Imidacloprid, suspected in the drastic decline of many important insect species, such as bees and butterflies, is the county’s leading grub-killer. Imidacloprid turns up in food, too; according to the Centers for Disease Control, it was found in about 1 in 5 of the samples tested. Prodiamine, another frequently applied herbicide here, is toxic to ducks, quail, and several kinds of fish and shellfish.
For all the posturing by politicians about low-nitrogen septic systems and stormwater runoff, it seems county and local officials are overlooking the real danger in our midst. The new figures on pesticide and herbicide use published by the State Department of Environmental Conservation should be a wake-up call.