Pesticides on Long Island

Long Island has historically been a place of farming. All manner of fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural uses have taken place over many decades.

With these uses came the use of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals common to agriculture.

Levittown, NY in the 1950s

Levittown, NY in the 1950s

With the rise of the suburbs (1920s-1960s), Long Island became more populated. As a result our relationship with pesticides shifted. Less used for agriculture, now these chemicals were being used in close proximity to homes for pest management. Concerns regarding health impacts began to grow.

Moth Pesticide Containing DDT - Photo courtesy of tehlemmingrebel - Flickr

Moth Pesticide Containing DDT - Photo courtesy of tehlemmingrebel - Flickr

In the 70's, increased cancer rates caused a shift in thinking about commonly used pesticides on Long Island. New York State banned DDT (what was then a widely used pesticide), which was found to cause cancer and accumulate in the food chain, posing a risk to public health and the environment.

EPA follows New York's lead one year later with a nationwide ban.

The state enacts the Pesticide Reporting Law in 1997 requiring that commercial businesses licensed to apply these potentially hazardous substances report which ones they are using and post signs warning that pesticides have been applied.

In the year 2000 New York State enacts the Pesticide Neighbor Notification Law, requiring that neighbors who reside in a New York State county that has opted into the law be informed, depending on the type of dwelling, 24 to 48 hours in advance of a pesticide application to an abutting property.


Curbing Our Use of Pesticides Is Critical For Ground Water Quality!

Cleanup of groundwater contaminated by pesticides often is impossible, and the contamination may last for many years. The cold temperatures and low microbial activity in groundwater cause pesticide degradation to occur more slowly than at the soil surface. The slow movement of groundwater means that it may take decades for the contaminated water to flow beyond the affected wells. Even determining which wells will be affected and for how long is a difficult problem, necessitating expensive long-range monitoring to ensure the safety of drinking water supplies.

Clearly, the best solution is to keep pesticides out of groundwater through careful storage, use, and disposal practices.

There are many ways we can all help:

For Farmers & Gardeners

  • Keep pesticides out of storm drains and gutters.

  • Consider the characteristics of the application site (soil texture, slope, organic matter) before applying the pesticide.

  • Be aware of the geology and the relative depth of the groundwater in your area.

  • Where possible, leave a border of untreated vegetation between treated areas and areas where wildlife may be present.

  • Take care when planting treated seeds to prevent dust that could affect bees.

  • Follow label precautions designed to protect pollinators and be aware of any hives in the area that could be affected by spraying.

At Home

  • Use landscaping techniques that help increase native habitat and reduce the need for pesticides.

  • Most insecticides are toxic to bees. When using them outdoors, apply at night when bees are not actively foraging.

  • Minimize potential harm to birds, beneficial insects, and fish by using pesticides only when necessary.

  • Treat only the specific areas needing treatment.

  • Follow all requirements on pesticide product labels.

  • Store and dispose of pesticides properly.

  • Mix pesticides, clean equipment and rinse containers in an area where pesticides and rinse water cannot enter sewers or storm drains.

References and Resources

USEPA - Tips for Reducing Pesticides Impact on Wildlife:
Suffolk County Water Quality Reports:

Cornell Cooperative Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP) - Pesticides and Groundwater: A Guide for the Pesticide User:

NYDEC - Pesticides: