Protecting New Yorkers from Illegal Pesticides

By Marcia Anderson

I am part of the R2 Pesticides Program, which multiple times a year, conducts a number of sweeps for illegal pesticides in and around New York City. We do this to protect consumers, their children, pets and wildlife from the potential dangers of unregistered, illegal pesticides.  Under federal pesticides law, all pesticide products sold in the U.S. must be registered with the EPA. Before a pesticide product is registered, the producer of the product must provide data from tests done according to EPA guidelines to ensure that the product does not make people sick, when directions on the label are followed. If a product is not registered, the EPA cannot be certain of the toxicity and efficacy of the product.

First, by definition, pesticides are designed to kill. Second, illegal pesticides may contain unknown ingredients. Many illegal pesticides are toxic. The ingredients in illegal pesticides may be harmful to people and/or the environment, and they may be banned for use in the United States. Consumers may unwittingly purchase or obtain illegal versions that may contain different ingredients or concentrations, sometimes much higher than the legal product. These illegal products have not been tested and their labels have not been reviewed for use directions and safety warnings.

Last week in an inspection at JFK Cargo Airport, we were alerted to several entries of illegal pesticides intercepted by the US Customs New York office. We conducted an inspection and found a shipment of 710 units of cockroach gel application systems and cockroach powder insecticide with unknown ingredients. Through an agreement with the US Customs office, the entire shipment was quarantined last week.  This week, the Pesticides Team and the US Customs NY District office have intercepted two more shipments of illegal pesticides originating in China. The joint effort resulted in confiscating over 50 cases of Cockroach Killer Bait and Smoke Kill Roach insecticides.  Arrangements were made to have these illegal pesticides destroyed by US Customs on EPA’s behalf.

When we find illegal products in the marketplace, they are immediately removed from the shelves. We back-trace the product to the distributor or the importer to determine how it entered the country, and whether any additional shipments of the illegal product have reached other stores and they are contacted to remove the product from their shelves also.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has previously warned the public about potential threats from illegal pesticides uncovered during these pesticides sweeps. The Agency has discovered that New York City -based companies have attempted to import moth ball pellets from China, insecticide products from Korea, and many more dangerous products from other countries.  Some of these products could be easily mistaken for candy by children and ingested, and some have very high levels of toxins that are not allowed in the USA.  Children’s health is of special concern as toxic chemicals often have far more damaging effects on their developing bodies.

In general, consumers should pay close attention to the pesticides that they use in and around their homes. Do not ever buy a pesticide that does not have an EPA registration number on the container. Warning the public about illegal pesticides is an especially difficult task in large urban areas, where many different languages and multi-ethnic enclaves make timely communications on health and safety issues a unique challenge.

About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.

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