From 1994 until the present, the Piermont Landing Home Owner's Association (PLHOA) abstained from chemical landscaping, i.e., from using pesticides for aesthetic purposes in landscape maintenance. That has changed.
In October of 1993, the PLHOA adopted a policy of “natural organic landscaping” and hired a landscaping company that not only had expertise and experience in this, but practiced exclusively in this way. The decision was made both out of concern for the health and safety of the residents and out of awareness of the environmentally sensitive nature of our location between the Hudson River, the Sparkill Creek, and the Piermont Marsh (the Piermont Pier was officially designated a Critical Environmental Area by the Village of Piermont in 1985).
From 1994 through 2001, the PLHOA practiced natural organic landscaping.
In 2002, the PLHOA was awarded the prestigious NYS Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention, based on all the chemicals that were not used during the prior eight years. The plaque commemorating the award hangs on a pillar in the Health Club.
However, in 2001, a new Board President had taken over, whose son happened to be a conventional landscaper. The son was given a three-year contract. After two years and under new leadership, that contract was terminated. However, another local conventional landscaper was brought on board, with the understanding that he would learn organic methods and consult with organic landscapers, as well as adhere to written specifications. Unfortunately, no mechanism was put in place to ensure that this would actually occur.
It now appears very likely that, if any such consultation took place, it was short-lived. The only thing that we can say for certain is that no pesticides were applied. It is likely that all the other requirements in the organic specifications (e.g., non-synthetic fertilizers, soil tests, etc.). were ignored.
Abstaining from using pesticides is not an organic program.
So, in describing the last 20 years, the most accurate statement is that Piermont Landing “abstained from chemical landscaping.” Ascribing present issues with the landscape to failures of organic management is simply inaccurate.
New landscapers/ snow plowers appeared on the property in November of 2020. The head of the Landscaping Committee stated that they would be using chemicals.
Five months after our initial request to see the contract, which, by law, must include a detailed list and schedule of planned applications, in March we finally received the first contract that provided this information.
On April 13, the landscaper applied a "weed and feed" (combination herbicide and synthetic fertilizer), with the active ingredient Dithiopyr. This is a Restricted Use pesticide product, forbidden on Long Island due to its toxicity to aquatic organisms.
As it happened, the landscaper they had hired is not a NYS Registered Pesticide Business and does not have a Certified Applicator on board (both requirements to use these chemicals on a commercial basis).
Based on this illegal application, the local DEC Environmental Conservation Officer issued a misdemeanor charge and several violations.
Before the landscaper could even be arraigned on these charges in Village Court, he sent in one of his men to attempt to spray something "on the sly" on June 18 (one man in an unmarked shirt with a backpack sprayer). This was most likely a herbicide, and very possibly the most commonly used one, which would be Round-Up (Glyphosate).
The man he sent in succeeded in spraying around a few homes. Residents, whose windows were open and who had received no notice whatsoever that this was happening, were outraged.
Luckily, we were able to get photographs of what happened, including the employee getting picked up by one of the landscaper's trucks. DEC is investigating.
Did the PLHOA Board stop and rethink its policy? No, actually they doubled down. They hired another landscaper, this one properly Registered and Certified in NYS. An application of chemicals was made in late June, with more planned.
The first thing he did was to put down a neonitonicoid insecticide, Imidacloprid. Neonicotinoids have been banned for outdoor use in the EU due to their toxicity to bees and other pollinators.
In fact, our State Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick is one of 17 co-sponsors of the "Birds and Bees Protection Act" which was passed in the NYS Senate on a 43 to 20 vote on June 8. It will go before the Assembly in the next session. This law will outlaw the very chemical the PLHOA put down on June 30.
The contract they signed calls for TWO applications in the late summer and fall of Q4 - a combination of FOUR herbicides delivered in spray form. The herbicide ingredient that makes up the biggest percentage of the product is 2,4-D - which was on e of the two "active ingredients" in Agent Orange.
Thanks to the efforts of the chemical company lobbies, New York State is a "pre-emption" state, which means that only the state can regulate pesticide use on private property. Counties, towns, and villages can only legislate practices on their own publicly-owned property.
In 1992, the Town of Orangetown and the County of Rockland both passed resolutions “establishing a policy of cutting unwanted vegetation to replace the use of pesticides” on their own lands.
In 1994, the Village of Piermont followed suit. In Piermont’s case, this simply formalized what had always been the Village’s practice.
In 2008, Rockland County went further, passing the “Rockland County Nontoxic Landscape Maintenance Act.” The law explicitly states in its “legislative intent” that “all residents, (particularly children), as well as other inhabitants of our natural environment, have a right to protection from exposure to hazardous chemicals and pesticides in particular” and “that it is in the best interest of public health to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides on County-owned land.” It goes on to adopt “the precautionary principle” as the basis of its nontoxic pest management (NPM) policy” and to define that policy in a very detailed and thorough fashion.
The County, the Town, and the Village have all chosen not to use conventional, chemical landscaping on their own property.
In 2010, NYS enacted laws prohibiting schools and day care centers from using pesticides for maintenance of playgrounds, turf, and athletic fields.
In 2021, the New York City Council voted unanimously to ban pesticides in all NYC parks.
Successive NYS Attorneys General have made a concerted effort to protect both consumers and the environment from the risks of chemical lawn care, none more so than Eliot Spitzer, who served as our AG from 1999 to 2006. His office conducted several studies on pesticide use in the state, and put out numerous reports and pamphlets warning citizens of the risks of pesticides and of various illegal industry practices.
AG Spitzer warned of the severe deficiencies of pesticide regulation, specifically:
(1) EPA registration is no guarantee of safety. It simply identifies the product, generally delegating the requirement for safety studies to the manufacturers. The backlog on studying the safety of these chemicals goes back decades. Indeed, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) forbids the use of the term “safe” (or any other such term) in relation to pesticides when engaging in commercial speech. The system of registering and putting off safety studies insures that chemicals are “innocent until proven guilty.” This eventually results in massive lawsuits, such as we now see regarding glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-Up.
(2) Most pesticide preparations list a very small percentage of “active ingredients” and a very large percentage of unspecified “inert ingredients.” Consumers tend to assume that the term “inert” refers to harmless substances. In fact, that is not at all the case. Companies are allowed to keep these ingredients secret from consumers due to
outdated laws designed to keep formulas secret from competitors (nowadays chemists can readily identify the ingredients). An ingredient which is considered “active” in one preparation can be considered “inert” in another. Some ”inert” ingredients are more toxic than the “active ingredient” listed on the label.
AG Spitzer, along with several other state Attorneys General, sued the EPA for failing to require that manufacturers disclose all ingredients. Along with other AGs, he also engaged in numerous educational and enforcement activities to address the issue of deceptive marketing of pesticide services e.g., falsely touting “safety” or falsely stating that toxicity is limited to the target species.
In its reply to our first letters informing residents of the change in policy, the Board made three arguments, all of them spurious.
1) It attempted to ascribe present issues with the landscape to failures of organic management. In fact, the PLHOA has not practiced organic landscaping since 2001. Some would argue that the practices of the last 20 years are more "neglect" than "organics."
2) It claimed that it would be using pesticides "on a short term basis."
First of all, this is disingenuous, as the contract signed was for TWO YEARS. Secondly, this makes no sense as chemical lawn care is designed to be self-perpetuating (makes good marketing sense). Using pesticides and eschewing good horticultural practice (see page on organic methods) further depletes the soil, only setting up a vicious cycle of "drug dependency." is simply inaccurate. Pesticides destroy the microbiology of the soil that underlies a healthy soil ecosystem; synthetic fertilizers promote weak growth; mowing low further weakens the grass; all setting the stage for more synthetic fertilizer and more chemical applications.
The organic approach is about creating the conditions for healthy turf; it is both knowledge-based and site-specific. It involves soil testing to identify the problems and targetted approaches to remedy them.
3) The Board claimed that using pesticides was "cost-effective." In fact, organic land management may cost more at the outset, but in the long run it saves money by requiring less inputs and particularly less water. But, even apart from that, chemical landscaping is only cheaper if you ignore the cost of the health and environmental consequences of using toxic chemicals. How is saving a few dollars in the short term worth putting the health and welfare of people, pets, and wildlife at risk?
Pesticides are toxic. The risks are particularly great for the more vulnerable among us – children, pregnant women, the elderly, and of course pets. If you are concerned about avoiding exposure, it is important to know what is being applied. However, the protections offered by the laws are complex and difficult to enforce.
You would think that the Board would feel a duty to both inform and warn residents. They encouraged residents to request pre-notification. However, even though a number of residents did file requests, they have entirely ignored them.