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Together with Leaders of New York’s Chinese-American Community, EPA Kicks-Off Outreach Campaign about Hazards of Illegal Pesticides

Release Date: 01/30/2003
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(#03006) New York, N.Y. – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny today announced a new EPA public outreach campaign aimed at informing Chinese-Americans of the dangers of illegal pesticides. Ms. Kenny was joined by several leaders of the Chinese-American community at the Chung Pak Building in Chinatown, New York City, including: Hong Lee, Executive Director of the Chinatown YMCA; David Cheng, Executive Director of the Chinese American Planning Council; Karen Liu, Executive Director of the Chinese American Planning Council Day Care Program; and Dr. Eric Poon, Chief of Pediatrics at NYU Downtown Hospital . EPA is focusing on the Chinese-American communities of New York and New Jersey because they are among the most at risk for poisonings from highly toxic illegal pesticides.

“This campaign, plain and simple, is about protecting families from the potentially harmful, even deadly effects of illegal urban pesticides,” said EPA’s Kenny. “It’s a fact of city life that roaches and rodents are a problem. We at EPA want to make sure that in solving one problem, no family faces a much more tragic problem.”

EPA has gathered information from the field and from other area health agencies suggesting that there has been a recent dramatic increase in the sale and use of illegal pesticides in New York and New Jersey. These products are often imported into the U.S. illegally, and are sold on the street, primarily in low income and/or minority and immigrant areas. They are also sold in some larger retail stores in these communities. Several of these pesticides have caused fatalities. To address this pressing problem, EPA developed an Urban Illegal Pesticides Initiative to warn communities of the hazards of such products, and to inform shopkeepers that it is illegal to sell them.

Before any pesticide is sold in the U.S., it must go through EPA's vigorous registration process, according to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). During this process EPA demands certain health studies and environmental information about the product to ensure that its proper use does not cause any undue negative human or environmental effects. If EPA decides to register the product, it grants the manufacturer an EPA registration number, which is listed on the product. EPA also works closely with the manufacturer on the label language, to make sure that it is clear and as specific as possible about how the product may be used.

“Do not buy a pesticide that does not have an EPA registration number on the container,” said Ms. Kenny.

Illegal products have never gone through EPA's pesticide registration process. The Agency has no information about what chemicals these products contain, how toxic they may be, or what their effects might be on people, especially children. Pesticides that are imported into the U.S. illegally are often marketed in immigrant communities such as the Chinese-American community. The pesticides may contain label language that is misleading: many make claims of safety and efficacy that have not been proven. They are also often much more toxic than any product EPA would register for use in the home, and put their buyers at grave risk. EPA has found several products imported from China that have an added danger. They look like toys or candy, and have been mistaken by small children for playthings instead of the highly toxic chemicals they are.

EPA’s New York, New Jersey regional office has undertaken a comprehensive public outreach program to inform the public of the dangers of these products. At today’s event, EPA unveiled a new brochure about illegal pesticides written in Chinese, and announced the creation of a poster which the Agency will post in storefronts in Chinese-American neighborhoods throughout the area.

EPA also recently conducted an enforcement effort aimed at businesses that sell illegal pesticides. The Agency inspected 48 large and mid-sized stores citywide last week: in Chinatown in Manhattan; in Flushing, Maspeth, Elmhurst and Astoria in Queens; and in Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brownsville, Bushwick and downtown Brooklyn. Inspectors found 44 different kinds of illegal pesticides at 27 locations, and located three distribution centers with large quantities of illegal product in Maspeth, Queens. Most of the stores have received notices of warning without financial penalties, but a few may receive EPA complaints seeking cash penalties. These inspections come on the heels of an earlier EPA sweep which resulted in $193,000 of fines from six businesses in Brooklyn and New Jersey that sold large quantities of illegal pesticides.

For more information about illegal pesticides, their health effects, and how to dispose of them, please call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-PEST, or go to the EPA’s illegal pesticide Web site.