A recent letter, "Pesticides are safe when used properly," downplayed the significant health and environmental risks associated with the use of pesticides, even when they are used properly.
According to New York State records, 4.5 million gallons and 29.4 million pounds of pesticides were used by commercial pesticide applicators and applied by farmers in 1998. This does not include pesticides applied by homeowners. Clearly, people can be exposed to pesticides in many places.
The fact that a pesticide is officially approved by the government for widespread use does not mean it is harmless. Pesticides are, after all, poisons designed to kill target organisms. Many cause nervous system damage, increase cancer risks, affect the endocrine system and cause a wide range of other adverse health effects.
I am concerned that overstated claims of safety may dissuade the public from taking appropriate measures to protect against pesticide exposure. It is in part due to these public health concerns that both federal and state laws regulate the scope of pesticide safety claims.
Federal law specifically prohibits manufacturers of pesticides from labeling their products as "safe, nonpoisonous, noninjurious, harmless or nontoxic" even when accompanied by a qualifying phrase such as "when used as directed."
Readers should be aware that applications of pesticide products involves inherent risks, even when such products are "used properly."
Chief, Environmental Protection Bureau
State Attorney General's Office
New York City