Pesticide use under scrutiny

The group Rochesterians Against the Misuse of Pesticides has determined that Geneseo uses 14 pesticides with potentially harmful effects on health.

Over the summer, R.A.M.P. president and founder Judy Braiman requested that Geneseo provide a list of chemical pesticides being used on campus grounds.

The chemicals on the list Braiman developed include boric acid, tetramethrin, prallethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin, piperonyl butoxide, glyphosate, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, methylchlorophenoxypropionic acid, dicamba, imidacloprid, cyfluthrin, pyrethins, fenoxaprop-p-ethyl naphthalene, oryzalin and triclosan.

The college's Procedures for Pesticide Applications states: "The use of pesticides on the SUNY Geneseo campus is an element of the campus Integrated Pest Management Program. Alternative methods of pest reduction or elimination are used to minimize the amount of pesticides used when and where possible … While pesticide applications are minimized and targeted at specific pests, the applications of pesticides are necessary to the success of the IPM Program."

Charles Reyes, director of environmental health and safety, said that any student seeking information on pesticide use can contact either him or the assistant director of grounds, Bill McDevitt. "Generally speaking, most of the chemicals have been used since my arrival on campus in late 2005," Reyes said.

"Geneseo reports annually to the Department of Environmental Conservation a list of pesticides which were applied the previous year," he said. "The campus was inspected by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Pesticides Unit in 2008, and found to have no violations."

According to Braiman, R.A.M.P. routinely surveys schools and colleges about chemicals used in and around their facilities. She said the organization holds the philosophy that there are always ways to eliminate the effects of pests without using potentially harmful pesticides. "We're all about teaching alternatives," she said.

Braiman said that Geneseo is not being safe in its application of pesticides. She noted that Food and Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy group, and Beyond Pesticides, a public health and environmental activist group, have teamed up to petition the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban triclosan, a common ingredient in anti-bacterial soaps and sanitizers. She included this chemical in her list of those used by Geneseo.

"We do not use any banned substances on this campus, and if a substance was banned, we wouldn't use it. We do what's legal," Reyes said. "I believe as long as pesticides are used properly, in concert with the label and the law, we could benefit from their use."

Braiman said she is concerned because there are legal chemicals that have known health risks in humans and in the environment. She cited naphthalene and oryzalin as legal pesticides that are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as Group C carcinogens, meaning it is possible that they can lead to cancer in humans.

All campus personnel who administer pesticides must record the amount, type, method of and reason for application for each chemical used in accordance with the Procedures for Pesticide Applications. These forms, which have been approved by the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, are carefully checked and monitored by Reyes to ensure adherence to protocol and to keep the campus safe.

"I've been working with hazardous chemicals and waste for years, and if you do it right it's much safer than people realize," he said.

Braiman said that R.A.M.P. would like the college to shift its stance. "We hope that [Geneseo] would discuss, starting immediately, using alternatives to pesticides, inside, outside or otherwise."

"No changes are planned for this time, but we have not yet heard R.A.M.P.'s suggestions," Reyes said.

Reyes and Braiman have a meeting scheduled later this month to discuss the use of pesticides on campus and possible alternatives.