Pesticides & West Nile Virus

From: Mitchel Cohen 2652 Cropsey Avenue, #7H Brooklyn, NY 11214 (718) 449-0037 (home)
"I sent the following letter in response to an article that appeared in Newsday, August 20, 2001. It would be nice to inundate the paper with letters. The email address is: Be sure to include your home address and telephone number."

by Mitchel Cohen

The pesticides being sprayed over Staten Island this year, Anvil 10+10 (Sumithrin) and Scourge (Resmethrin), are synthetic pyrethroids associated with increased breast and prostate cancers, lowered sperm counts, miscarriages and pre-term delivery, asthma attacks, toxicity to many vital organs including the nervous system, liver, kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract, skin rashes, itching and blisters, and nausea and vomiting.

Both pesticides contain piperonyl butoxide, which the federal Environmental Protection Agency lists as a suspected carcinogen. Piperonyl butoxide acts as a synergist; it combines with the sumithrin and resmethrin to prevent the liver from filtering the toxins and excreting them from the body. (see: for more info.)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people, were sickened by the pesticide spraying in 1999 and 2000. The entire population's immune systems were weakened, resulting in a vast increase of illnesses such as common colds, flu and asthma as well as other long-term health problems.

This, in addition to the killing off of lobsters, clams, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects, dragonflies (which eat mosquitoes), frogs and birds, and the potentially hazardous effects of pesticides on our drinking water.

Yet New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Health Commissioner Neal Cohen continue to portray pesticide spraying as "safe." It would only be a health risk, the Mayor says, if you went up to the spray truck, put your nose against the nozzle, and "sucked it in through a straw."

"There's absolutely no danger to anyone from this spraying. … There are some people who are engaged in the business of wanting to frighten people out of their minds," the Mayor has charged (Newsday, 9/14/99). Giuliani's statements have so angered Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that he felt compelled to write several letters admonishing the Mayor and other City officials against claiming that toxic pesticides are "safe". The Attorney General warned that had those claims been made by private companies they would be in violation of federal and state law.

Add to that a secret memo issued recently by the NY Police Department warning police officers accompanying spray trucks to stay at least 25 feet away from the spray, wear protective clothing, keep the windows tightly shut, and avoid all contact with the pesticides, and one has to wonder about what is really going on here.

For two years, now, helicopters have buzzed just above the treeline and trucks have criss-crossed every block in the city spraying dangerous pesticides over children playing in parks, people walking their dogs, eating in restaurants, and riding the NY City subway system. No effort at all is made to provide health services or even a hotline to call for people made sick from the spray. (The WNV "hotline" set up by the NYC Department of Health was answered by non-unionized, ill-informed operators in Pennsylvania, who had no idea what was going on and had no knowledge or instructions concerning people calling in who had been exposed to pesticides.) There have been no precautions taken to warn asthma sufferers, people with compromised immune systems, cancer survivors, people with allergies, or those facing repeated exposure (homeless people, subway workers, spraytruck drivers, etc.) – let alone everyone else about the dangers of the spraying. To top it off, pressures have been brought to bear on scientists and health professionals to basically "shut up" in public concerning evidence of the dangers of pesticide spraying on densely populated urban areas.

Yet none of the major party candidates for Mayor — not Mark Green, Alan Hevesi, Peter Vallone, Herman Badillo or Michael Bloomberg (the two exceptions are Democratic candidates George Spitz and Fernando Ferrer) — have taken a stand against the indisccriminate spraying of toxic pesticides.

Last year, the No-Spray Coalition — along with co-plaintiffs Disabled in Action, Save Organic Standards-NY, Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, Robert Lederman, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Valerie Sheppard, and Mitchel Cohen — filed a lawsuit to prevent federal, state and city environmental violations which occurred during New York City's pesticide spraying program in
1999 and 2000. The case was found to have merit and is moving forward in federal court under the Clean Water Act.

As a result, this year New York City claimed pesticide spraying would be a "last resort." Yet on Friday, August 10th, Mayor Giuliani announced his decision to again blanket-spray entire areas of Staten Island. And later this week the City has announced it will open new bids for helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft spraying!

How quicklly that "last resort" became a "first resort"!

Giuliani made this announcement NOT at a public space such as City Hall or the Department of Health, but from his top security "anti-terrorist" bunker run by the Office of Emergency Management on the 22nd floor of the World Trade Center.

The lawyer for the No Spray Coalition, Joel Kupferman, tried to attend the Mayor's press conference at which Giuliani announced the new round of spraying, but was physically barred and threatened with arrest if he did not leave the building. Clearly, the Mayor did not want anyone asking pointed questions.

Previously, the Mayor had branded the No Spray Coalition and other opponents of the indiscriminate spraying "environmental terrorists" who "like to get you angry because it gets them on television."

Kupferman, along with other members of the No Spray Coalition and the NY Environmental Law & Justice Project, had successfully blocked a $277 million bid by Clarke Environmental Mosquito Control Inc. to do the spraying this year. The same individuals were also instrumental in ensuring that the company was fined $1 million by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation for jeopardizing the health and safety of the workers under its toxic spray program.

Interestingly, City, State and Federal agencies originally testified in Court that they had been "on-the-spot" in monitoring the spraying, as required by law. Yet only the Company has been fined; City, State and Federal agencies NOW claim that "they didn't know" because they were not there! WHICH IS IT?

Kupferman was prevented from asking this rather simple question at the City's press conference.

He also wanted to ask who, exactly, was hired to handle the spraying, since no company (other than the discredited Clarke Environmental, Inc.) bid for the spray contracts. The companies have expressed anxiety about being sued by the No Spray Coalition, and so have refused to bid unless the City insures them against such a probability. Does the Mayor expect City workers to do the spraying? Are they certified? Have they been properly trained? Has the union agreed, or said anything?

Most people, fortunately, are beginning to see through the fog and are growing increasingly concerned about the very real dangers of mass application of pesticides.

We are concerned that the City has disregarded virtually all the directions and warnings included with these chemicals by their manufacturers. Contrary to both the directions on the labels and existing environmental law the spraying was done directly on humans, over bodies of water, without sufficient warning and more often than not at times when it is known to be completely ineffective for killing mosquitoes. (In fact, the spraying kills off the natural predators of mosquitoes, enabling mosquitoes to return in much greater numbers, as spraying for equine encephalitis virus in upstate New York in the mid 1980s has proven.

New York City's indiscriminate spraying of malathion, resmethrin, sumithrin, permethrin — along with their "inert" ingredients and synergists (piperonyl butoxide) — has put the public's health and natural environment in great danger. As a direct effect of the pesticide exposure, thousands of people suffered impaired respiratory and neurlgical health, including many of the workers who were temporarily hired by the City to do the actual spraying. Thousands more are expected to experience long term health problems which may not manifest as symptoms for many years including cancer, hormonal imbalances, neurological damage and possible genetic mutations.

At the same time, we cannot help but notice that there has been NO HEALTH EMERGENCY declared by NY State or City officials pertaining to West Nile Virus. Consequently, the integrated federal, state and local response to the "health situation" in New York City brought on, supposedly, by infected mosquitoes smacks more and more of a military operation, at least insofar as the manner in which the mass-spraying of dangerous insecticides on the entire population and envionment has taken place. This is best exemplifid in the Court transcript of a hearing on the No Spray Coalition's lawsuit last September, 2000, in which a NYC Department of Health witness was cross-examined by No Spray lawyer, Karl Coplan.

City's witness: "Last fall was the first time we saw West Nile in a US city."

Karl Coplan: "Are you aware of research done on the West Nile virus in this country in the 1950's, including at Rockefeller University?"

City's witness: "I'd like to change my previous statement."

Are we, the residents of the New York metropolitan area, merely "collateral damage" in some sort of secret govenment experiment — call it the "Biological Warfare Preparedness Project" — over which we have little knowledge and no control?

Are companies with ties to government officials raking in large profits from the spray program, which now extends up and down the entire eastern seaboard, and as far west as the Mississippi River

This whole situation smacks of a set-up. The way the City went about rationalizing the new round of spraying is dastardly. One sick person with encephalitis — as unfortunate as that is — does not a "public health emergency" make. Nor do a few dead birds or infected mosquito pools.

Most people are finally beginning to understand that the alleged "cure" is far worse than the disease. Mayor Giuliani's "spray now, ask questions later" approach is dead wrong, and just . . . deadly

The No Spray Coalition can be reached at: PO Box 334, Peck Slip Station, NYC 10271. Hotline (718) 670-7110.
Website: Listserve: (Mitchel Cohen is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Mayor Giuliani to stop the indiscriminate spraying of toxic pesticides. He is a founder of the No Spray Coalition, and is a write-in candidate for Mayor of NYC on the Green Party line.)

By permission of Author


City to Examine Organic Pesticide

By Emeri O'Brien

August 20, 2001

City Councilwoman Kathryn Freed called yesterday for the city to investigate alternatives to pesticide spraying for the West Nile virus.

"At a time in which non-toxic alternatives exist, the city must investigate these alternatives rather than contract for aerial spraying of toxic pesticides, as it is in the process of doing," Freed said on the steps of City Hall.

Freed will present a resolution to the Council tomorrow, asking for the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection to form a joint task force and start a pilot program that would examine using non-toxic products against mosquitoes.

The next bid due date for aerial spraying is scheduled for Aug. 28 at 10 a.m. at the New York City Department of Health.

Department of Health spokesman, Greg Butler, declined to comment on Freed's proposal, but he said the Department of Health currently has alternative programs to pesticide spraying, including so-called "larva sighting." This is a method that kills mosquito larva in water where mosquito eggs are laid. "We have used larva sighting and will continue to use it when we detect signs of the West Nile virus," Butler said.

Butler also contends that the spraying of the pesticide Anvil is not harmful. However, Butler did say that the Department of Health does offer recommendations to citizens on how they can prevent being exposed to the chemical.

This makes Staten Island resident Elaine Taratunio feel as if the chemicals could be dangerous. "If pesticides are so safe," Taratunio said, "why are we being told to keep our windows shut, to take in our children's toys, keep our air conditioners off and to keep our pets indoors?"

Freed believes that the spraying of Anvil and other pesticides are hazardous to residents' health.

"The pesticides are making many people sick and are causing terrible environmental damage," Freed said.

Instead of using chemicals to fight West Nile, Freed suggested using methods that would not have an adverse effect on human health. These suggestions include using organic chemicals such as citric acid and vinegar to spray for mosquitoes.

Sondra Levin, chair of the New York City group of the Sierra Club, said using natural products would be a safe solution to the problem.

"It's organic," Levin said. "It's like an answer to our prayers."



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