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By Brian P. Smith

The growing body of scientific research continues to uncover links between pesticide exposure and serious health problems. Short-term, acute exposure to pesticides can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, seizures and asthma attacks. Long-term exposure is linked to neurological impairment, hormone disruption, reproductive disorders and cancer. Knowing what pesticides are used and where is essential to understanding what impacts these toxic chemicals are having.

New York passed one of the nation’s most comprehensive pesticide reporting laws in 1996. The law requires that applicators report where pesticides are actually applied, which has provided important data that has led to ground-breaking medical and scientific research, innovative public policy initiatives and increased health protections.

Information collected through the law contributed to a ban on the harmful pesticides chlorpyrifos and diazinon in residential settings. It also revealed the massive amount of pesticides used for commercial applications, such as lawn care.

This information spurred the passage of New York’s first-in-the-nation pesticide neighbor notification law and the subsequent Erie County opt-in law that gives residents the right to know when pesticides will be applied on their neighbor’s property.

Like most laws that have been in existence for nearly two decades, the pesticide reporting law could use some updates. Reporting data electronically makes sense. Using this data to study impacts such as water quality and ecological impacts also makes sense.

Unfortunately, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed to gut the most important part of the pesticide reporting law by repealing the requirement that commercial applicators report their use of pesticides. This would eviscerate the law and impede the public’s right to know about toxic chemicals being used where they live, work and play.

The governor proposes that retailers would have to report their sales of pesticides to commercial applicators, private applicators and the general public. While the sales data would help fill gaps in our knowledge about how individuals buy pesticides, it is not a replacement for extremely important information on where pesticides are being used.

Better data help to inform better policies. Knowing what, where, when and how many pesticides are being applied allows researchers, government agencies and the general public to better understand pesticide use trends and identify specific problems that need to be further analyzed or corrected.

The Legislature has the power to reject this rollback. We are counting on the Legislature, because we deserve the right to know.

Brian P. Smith is program and communications director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Buffalo.