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Officials: Pesticides In Long Island Water Pose No Known Health Threat

Kitchen Sink Faucet (credit: clipart.com)

Kitchen Sink Faucet (credit: clipart.com)

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Increasing trace amounts of pesticides are showing up in the drinking water on Long Island, but despite calls for a pesticide ban, public officials denied Tuesday that there is any health threat.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and several environmental groups participated in a hearing at Farmingdale State College on what to do about the pesticides in Long Island’s groundwater.

“What we need to do is we need to make sure that Long Islanders aren’t continuously exposed to this great variety of pesticides in our drinking water,” said Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Trace amounts of the chemicals metalaxyly, imida-cloprid and atrazine have shown up thousands of times in test wells. The chemicals are used for potato and corn growth and to prevent fungus.

“We need to ban the ones that are showing up the most in our ground water,” she said.

Environmentalists said the chemicals have potential links to cancer.

“We have 117 toxic pesticides in Long Island’s groundwater. Three million people drink that water, and what we need is a more protective plan,” Esposito said. “Stop protecting the status quo, and start protecting groundwater.”

She said what is needed is a regulatory agency to protect the people and not the industry.

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, said the issue poses both health and financial concerns.

“Our concern is what are we doing to our water by this continued extravagant use of pesticides,” Sweeney told 1010 WINS. “How much is it going to cost us to try to clean the water up and if we don’t succeed in that, what are the potential health consequences as well as the financial consequences.”

“How we manage that water is really critical to our future health as well as to our financial well-being. Contaminants like pesticides are a problem and one that, I believe, the State Department of Environmental Conservation is not taking seriously enough,” he added.

But the department in question called it all much ado about nothing.

“There is no sacrifice of the public health or the environment in this,” said department Deputy Commissioner Eugene Leff.

State officials said pesticide levels on Long Island are far below federal standards, and further study is needed to determine if the chemicals are even toxic.

“It isn’t necessarily tougher in the sense of government telling people what to do, such as ban pesticides,” Leff said. “But I think it’s smarter, and in the long run, a whole lot more effective.”

Meanwhile, some farmers said they are not waiting for new laws. They have turned to using organic pesticides.

“Nitrogen is limited. Lots of different kinds of materials that can be used for pest control are limited or prohibited,” said Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars.

The Long Island Farm Bureau is no fan of banning the chemicals. The president of the farm bureau told CBS 2 that until there is a proven science showing a health threat or cost-effective alternatives, no ban is warranted.

The Department of Environmental Conservation said it will decide by the end of the year whether the pesticide chemicals need to be banned or more strictly regulated. Meanwhile, more public hearings are planned.