Erie County is among only nine counties in the state with a written policy on the control of pesticides, state Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco said here Thursday evening.
"Even the lawn-spraying companies routinely put flags on lawns, but there are counties that don't notify their own employees when they're using a pesticide in a county building," Vacco said during a forum at the University at Buffalo.
The Pesticide Project, a new campaign to alert the public to the dangers of these commonly used chemicals, drew 92 listeners to the Center for Tomorrow on UB's North Campus.
In the current absence of laws to protect consumers from pesticides that are still taken for granted by government, Vacco said, individuals must learn all they can about integrated pest management. Non-chemical approaches to keeping pests out of homes include insect and rodent traps, window caulking and securing of garbage containers, he said.
"I'm been discovering how young kids at home have access to every nook and cranny," said Vacco, who lives in Hamburg with his wife and their young children. "We have a lot of fly swatters around the house but no more of those red cans of Raid."
Vacco said people need to be educated about the dangers of pesticides, which can be fatal.
"Whenever I drive past a lawn that's been sprayed, I have to wonder," he said. "Those signs do nothing to keep those 3-year-olds off that lawn."
Seated in the front row, a few feet from Vacco, was a woman wearing a medical mask. Sharon Giardina of North Buffalo said later that her sensitivity to a wide range of chemicals began with a neighbor's zealous use of lawn pesticides a decade ago.
"They're poisoning people like me," she said. "My house is bubble-ized. This summer I could go out in my yard only about 10 times, mainly because of the lawn pesticides. I'm dying. I called Mr. Vacco's office, and they sent me a letter saying there are no statutes to stop them from spraying lawns and trees the way they do."
Michael H. Surgan, chief scientist in the Environmental Protection Bureau of the state Department of Law, spoke on "the public misconception that the registration of a pesticide by the U.S. government assures safety."
A safe pesticide is defined as one that can be used "without any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of its use," he said, quoting the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
"That's a kind of balancing act, and not a finding of safety by the EPA," he said of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Marion Moses, founder and president of the Pesticide Education Center in San Francisco, said not many people know that from 75 to 90 percent of human exposure to pesticides comes through the skin. A relatively small percentage comes through the mouth, nose and eyes, she said.
"The genital area absorbs pesticides the fastest," she said, "followed by the armpits." For children, she added, the consequences of skin exposure are magnified by the fact that they have a large skin area in proportion to their tiny vital organs.
Studies have shown that a child who has a parent using pesticides in the garden is six times more likely to contract leukemia, she said. Golf course superintendents, she added, have nearly three times the risk of contracting prostate cancer because of their exposure to lawn pesticides.
"To pay somebody money to pump toxic chemicals onto their lawn -- I just don't understand it," Ms. Moses said. "And when shopping (for pesticides), if you don't know what's in it, don't buy it. Would you buy mystery meat?"