Pesticide safety and the next ground water threat

August is usually the time when most insects are winding down, due to the heat and humidity that we face each year. Most insects go dormant during the summer to conserve energy that will be ...

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August is usually the time when most insects are winding down, due to the heat and humidity that we face each year. Most insects go dormant during the summer to conserve energy that will be needed again in the fall. So, I thought that I would spend some time this month talking about pesticide safety and the biggest threat to our ground water here on Long Island.
After over 20 years in this industry and as a DEC certified applicator, I wasn't shocked when I received a press release from the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) of which my company has been a member for a number of years. This press release focused on a survey of homeowners that was done by the Virginia Cooperative Extension. This survey found some alarming gaps in not only the level of knowledge regarding the materials that are being applied but also the proper safety precautions that should be taken when working with these materials.
According to the survey:
60 % of homeowners reported they don't wear any protective clothing or equipment when applying pesticides.
More than 40 % do not remove toys, pet dishes and lawn furniture before applying pesticides.
Only 45 % follow label directions about when it is safe to re-enter an area sprayed with pesticides.
Fewer than 5 % bothered to notify their neighbors when they are applying pesticides.
I am not sure how many homeowners and do-it-yourselfers realize that the neighbor notification law that we in the industry are required to follow also applies to them.
Homeowners are now required to post signs on their lawns and to notify their neighbors if they are spraying plants that are on the common borders of their property.
The fact is that many of the insect problems in the landscapes on Long Island are secondary issues. A qualified professional should be consulted in regards to the problems that you are facing and, if possible, non-chemical alternatives such as proper pruning, sanitation and proper watering should be chosen. Pesticides should be held off as a last resort.
If you find it necessary to use pesticides, here are some common sense tips for proper handling:
Identify the pest first. There is no use applying a pesticide that won't address your pest problem.
Buy ready to use pesticides. They're more expensive, but are less toxic than concentrates and eliminate the chance of exposure during mixing. In addition, they can be purchased in smaller quantities that homeowners realistically need.
Buy no more material than you can use in one season. Buying more creates storage problems and potentially expensive disposal problems.
Don't be tempted to use agricultural grade chemicals. They aren't designed for use by homeowners. A small miscalculation in the mixing of a small batch could result in drastic overdosing.
Buy the least toxic chemical. Most chemicals available to homeowners use the signal words "caution", "warning" or "danger" on their labels. Try to avoid those with the "warning" or "danger" labels, as they are more hazardous.
Never mix herbicides with insecticides or fungicides, and never use the same equipment to apply herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. You could unintentionally kill the plants that you are trying to protect.
Always follow label directions on mixing, applying, storage and disposal of all pesticides. Remember the label is a federal legal document and is the law.
Don't mix or store pesticides in food containers, and don't measure pesticides with the measuring cups and spoons you use in the kitchen. Always store pesticides in their original containers with the label intact.
The next topic that I am going to cover impacts everyone. Over the past few years, the ground water testing wells that the DEC and EPA maintain throughout the Island have been showing increasing amounts of nitrates leeching down into the aquifer. They attribute this rising level to the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that are applied to lawns and landscapes.
It is so much of a concern that the EPA in our region (region 2) last month released plans to circulate a poster of a man, presumably a homeowner, wearing Bermuda shorts and pushing a fertilizer spreader, superimposed on the surface of a lake. The caption that is under the picture implies that when you fertilize your lawn, you are not only fertilizing your lawn.
This is a problem that will need to be addressed very soon. There is already talk of banning all nitrogen based fertilizers from being used on Long Island. This would not only affect the lawn care industry, but also the do-it-yourself homeowner.
Research done by companies like Soil Food Web and Plant Health Care Inc. have shown that there are abundant amounts of nitrogen, as well as other nutrients and micronutrients, are present in the soil but are locked up in non-soluble forms. The research has further shown that where there are these nutrient deficiencies, the soils suffered from a lack of beneficial microbes and bacteria. These microbes and bacteria can digest the non-soluble forms of the minerals, and break them down before releasing them back into the soil, making the soluble forms available to the plants.
Along with these beneficial microbes and bacteria, beneficial fungi known as
Mycorrhizae help to enhance a plants root structure and nutrient absorption capabilities by as much as 200%. I would caution you here, if you use these microbial, bacterial or fungal agents on your lawn (including things like Milky spore for grub control or beneficial nematode), chemical pesticides and fungicides need to be avoided at all costs. The chemicals have been shown to adversely effect the organics in the soil.
The use of organic fertilizers will provide the same results, but they may not last as long or they may take a little longer to green up the lawn. Using all organic materials will not only help to protect the ground water, but it will also help to preserve the environment for future generations.
If you have any questions or need further advice or assistance, feel free to get in touch with me at or at 631-691-2381 or 631-466-2930.
You can get more information on the biological treatments at and