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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 7, 2009

We smell a rat!

Citizens are up in arms about poison used to kill rats around the Rapp Road landfill. They should be.

Our garbage goes to the landfill, which is used by a consortium of a dozen local municipalities — including Guilderland, New Scotland, and the Hilltowns. The landfill is owned by the city of Albany, which receives substantial funds from the consortium and outside haulers, using the money to balance the city’s budget.

The Rapp Road landfill is expected to be filled in less than a year, and an expansion has been proposed to provide enough space for six or seven more years worth of waste.

A series of hearings last year and this year have let citizens near the landfill express their outrage on a variety of topics, ranging from bad smells to health concerns.

At a hearing in December, Grace Nichols, a former middle-school science teacher, raised the issue of missing rodenticide data.  Rodenticide is poison used to kill rodents. Nichols said authorities at the landfill had not released any records on what kind of poison they use to control rats and mice or how much or how often it is applied.

The manager of the Rapp Road landfill, Joseph Giebelhaus, told our reporter Philippa Stasiuk in December that no rodenticide is used around the landfill. He said the landfill had a contract with the city to periodically lay down bait for mice inside the buildings, but that it was the same kind of rodent poison used in homes.

Nichols kept at it.

She got contract records from the Albany City Clerk’s office and found that the Department of General Services had paid Rentokill, Inc. for pesticides to be spread at the landfill; the contract is still ongoing. Records show the city was spreading three types of lethal insecticides, as well as the rodenticide Brodifacoum, both in and outside the buildings at the landfill.

Brodifacoum, according to the records, is used to target rodents, and “causes hemorrhage, accumulates in carnivores; kills owls, hawks, crows and coyotes.” The other regularly used pesticide was Bifenthrin, which was described as “fatal to insects including moths.”

Nichols had feared the Karner blue butterfly, a species the federal government has determined is endangered, would be further harmed.

The Rentokill reports from 2007 to 2008 show that the insecticides and rodenticide were spread on 16 different occasions in six locations at the landfill.

Save the Pine Bush, which has been fighting since the 1970s to preserve the last of the inland pine barrens, the rare ecosystem surrounding the landfill, reviewed animal autopsy reports showing that many animals were contaminated with Brodifacoum. Eight coyotes in the Pine Bush area had Brodifacoum in their systems, as did many great horned owls and a few hawks.

“I don’t like to see Brodifacoum anywhere,” Ward Stone told our reporter Anne Hayden last week. Stone is the state’s wildlife pathologist. We’ve counted on him for years to give us the straight story. Bordifacoum, he said, “moves easily among the food chain and is the worst of the rodenticides.” Stone thinks it should be banned on a national level.

The enforcement agency here is the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC’s environmental impact statement on the Rapp Road project did not list the rat in the dump’s animal profile.

And DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson told our reporter of the city using pesticides, “As long as they use certified applicators, and follow the regulations, there is nothing the DEC can do about it.” He also said it’s impossible to tell where animals and birds have picked up the chemicals since other homes and businesses in the area use pesticides and rodenticides.

Does that mean, since we can’t pinpoint a source, we have to accept it? Poisons in the food chain and in the water — the Rapp Road landfill is on top of a primary acquifer — can harm people in the long run. The source of the poison needs to be pinpointed and controlled.

Public awareness is a first step to solving the problem. Poisons have been useful to humans in controlling, for example, mosquitoes that carry malaria or rats that carry plague. But poisons need to be used sparingly and with care.

 The federal law has evolved from the Insecticide Act of 1910 to the 1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1947. In 1972, FIFRA was amended in a way that shifted the emphasis from safeguarding the consumer against fraudulent pesticide products to protecting both public health and the environment.

While federal regulations and laws set the standard for pesticide use, states have the right to be stricter than federal law.

We agree with Ward Stone that new regulations need to be drawn up for use of pesticides and rodenticides. Until then, we need to be aware of what we are using in our homes and in our yards, and we need to choose the method that is least harmful for the environment. (Sometimes, mechanical means — like the mousetrap — work well and won’t poison our environment.) And we need to follow the example set by Grace Nichols — holding our public officials accountable for their actions.

We, as humans, share the earth with other forms of life, which we need to protect for our own well being as much as for theirs.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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