BY NICK BUGLIONE
Testimony from city health officials in a U.S. District Court case has revealed that the state has been testing for traces of city sprayed pesticide in Queens bodies of water where it could be deadly to aquatic life, and found it in Alley Pond Park.
“We’re in the process of investigating what occurred at Alley Park,” said Nina Habib Spencer, a spokesperson for the DEC, which monitors all wetlands and is requiring pre- and post-spraying tests to be conducted on other sensitive ecological areas and water bodies in Queens, and throughout the state.
PESTICIDE IN THE POND
“The Health Department has found very low levels of sumithrin (Anvil’s active ingredient) in Alley Pond Park,” said John Gadd, a spokesman for the DOH. “The Health Department is monitoring a sample of ponds to look for whether there have been any effects.”
The DOH told a U.S. District judge that the aquatic wildlife has not been immediately affected by the pesticide’s presence. The U.S. District Court is currently hearing a case filed by environmentalists seeking the cessation of neighborhood spraying.
“There was no evidence of any affect on fish and fish would be the most sensitive,” Gadd said.
The city sprayed the park as part of its campaign campaign to eliminate mosquitoes that might carry the dreaded West Nile virus, yet it is unknown how the pesticide contaminated the water.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokeswoman Nina Habib Spencer said that application of Anvil directly to bodies of water is a violation of the pesticide’s label, as the substance is extremely toxic to aquatic wildlife.
Due to its toxicity to fish, Anvil is not supposed to be sprayed within 100 feet of any body of water. “We have no reason to believe that any of the applicants did not adhere to those buffer zones,” said Habib Spencer, noting that the pesticide could have been carried into the water by the wind, or by runoff.
William Nieter, president of the Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC) and director of environmental studies at St. John’s University, said he was unaware that health department officials were even testing the waters inside the park, and was surprised to hear of the presence of Anvil in them.
Nieter also said he was disappointed he wasn’t directly notified, hearing only of the situation through news reports of the court case.
“It’s disturbing to hear that they discovered this and then will only share it with a judge in a hearing,” said Nieter. “We are requesting their information, whatever information they have, should be shared with us.”
OTHER VICTIMS OF THE BUG BATTLE
While city and state officials continue to reaffirm the paramount importance of pesticides in the fight against the West Nile virus, environmentalists from within APEC have long been against the spraying.
They maintain that the toxic spray kills not only disease carriers but also beneficial insects necessary to the ecological cycle.
“On ecological grounds, it’s really a poor decision,” said Nieter. “Spraying should only be done under emergency situations when there’s a serious health risk. We have not seen that this year.”
Reports from workers inside APEC demonstrate that there has been a noticeable decrease in the past year of moths, butterflies and other wildlife inside Alley Pond Park.
Nieter also contends that spraying can pose a threat to humans. “There are people in the population that do have sensitivity to chemicals and pesticides and they should not be exposed to this arbitrarily,” he said.
Some members of the community concur with Nieter’s views on the spraying. “A pesticide is out to kill whether it kills gently or in one full blow,” said Sabina Cardali, a 38-year resident of College Point. “I don’t think the people involved in this did their homework.”
“This spraying, in my opinion, is bad,” said Hedy Sirdofsky, who lives near the park. “It seems it is doing more harm than good.”
IS ANVIL SAFE?
The EPA, the department responsible for registering and testing all pesticides, regards Anvil as relatively safe to humans.
According to Habib Spencer, when a company wishes to produce a new pesticide, the EPA must first test it with regard to the substance’s affect on humans, wildlife and the environment. Its potential usefulness is also taken into account.
“Many pesticides that are approved for use can be highly toxic,” she said, “but may break down very quickly when exposed to sunlight.”
Upon determining the pesticide’s toxicity, the EPA gives the substance a ranking on a scale of one to four, one being the most toxic and four being the least.
“Anvil rates a three, which means that it’s moderately toxic,” said Habib Spencer. Anvil, produced by Clarke Mosquito Control, the company also responsible for its spraying, is categorized as a pyrethroid, a group of substances that are essentially a synthesis of pesticides that occur naturally.
Its active ingredient, sumithrin, affects the nervous system of the pest that it’s designed to kill—in this case the mosquito—which ultimately shuts down the insect’s respiratory system.
“It’s not particularly toxic to birds, it is not generally toxic to mammals,” said Habib Spencer, however she did note that certain “non-target” species of insects, like butterflies can be affected.
Habib Spencer went on to note that although it’s not considered harmful to humans, large doses of Anvil can cause health problems, even death, in humans.
“In very high doses there are many chemicals that will have significant health affects,” she said, adding that the amount of Anvil recommended to be sprayed per square mile — .0036 pounds — is too low to significantly pose a threat to humans.
However, the inhalation of sprayed Anvil can cause skin and eye irritation as well as respiratory complications, especially to those who are asthmatic or sensitive to chemicals.
For that reason, Habib Spencer said it’s imperative that the community receive adequate and accurate notification regarding times when spraying will occur.
Some local residents have charged that spraying notification has been eratic at best, and in some cases, non-existent.
“I personally didn’t know about it,” said Priya Singla, a Douglaston resident. “I don’t think we got any notification for the spraying.”
Amy Sheu, a 22-year resident of Douglaston agreed, stating, “We didn’t know when they were going to spray.”
The EPA recommends that anyone who has come in direct contact with the substance wash the affected area immediately. Anyone suffering from respiratory conditions or experiencing adverse reactions to the pesticide should contact their doctor immediately or call the New York City Poison Control Center at (212) 764-7667.
— Isadora Murphy contributed to this story