In eight New York state counties, lawn care is not just a matter of pride; it's a matter of law.
To address growing concerns over health risks associated with pesticides, Albany, Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk, Tompkins and Westchester counties have opted into the state's 2000 Neighbor Notification Law, which requires homeowners and commercial pesticide spraying companies to inform owners of adjacent properties of upcoming pesticide applications. New York City also opted into the Neighborhood Notification Law and has one agreement for its five counties.
The law, crafted by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, is completely optional. However, counties that adopt the law must accept it in its entirety without changing any text.
When it comes to small-scale residential projects conducted by home and property owners, complying with the Neighbor Notification Law is easy: It simply requires residential lawn applicators to post warning signs the day of application and 24 hours following the treatment.
For commercial spraying companies, however, giving a 48-hour notice to all abutting properties within 150 feet of the spraying location -- as the law stipulates -- can be time-consuming.
To help commercial applicators solve this problem -- and ultimately comply with the law -- Erie and Monroe counties have found different ways to share their geographic information system (GIS) data with spraying companies.
Right to Know
For Dr. Andrew Doniger, Monroe County's health director, health concerns were not uppermost in that county's decision to opt into the Neighbor Notification Law. "It's more of an opportunity, a right for people to know what exposures they have, rather than being a law primarily focused on health risks," he said.
Rick Wojcik, Erie County's supervising public health sanitarian, recognized that many pesticides are desiccants and nerve agents, and therefore dangerous when used in large quantities. He added that people with allergies to chemical components of pesticides could potentially experience respiratory problems if exposed.
However, Wojcik said the county's decision to opt into the law was largely political. "Many [environmental groups] wanted to see a reduction of pesticides used. They thought this law would cause pesticide companies to switch to less toxic or safer brands of pesticides and use granules rather than sprays, or switch to bio-pesticides rather than chemical pesticides."
To Comply or Not?
Regardless of the potential health hazards associated with pesticides, commercial applicators working in counties that have opted into the law must comply with its stipulations -- or face $5,000 to $10,000 fines, respectively, for first and second offenses.
"The law says the pesticide applicator needs to provide a notice to the neighbors," Doniger explained. "That has been interpreted to mean either a letter in the mail or a handbill that is delivered and generally attached to the doorknob of the property owner."
That task can be daunting, according to Shilpa George, vice president of Intelligent Decision Systems Inc. (IDSi), a GIS solutions provider based in Fort Lee, N.J.
"The big problem is how to get the addresses of the abutting properties," she said. "You have to send somebody there, and they have to physically walk around and try to find the addresses of all those places. It's a very difficult thing to do."
To give commercial applicators the means to comply with the law, IDSi approached the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning in early 2006, and proposed the Neighbor Notification Service (NNS), a solution that would require the county to share some of its GIS data with the company. Erie County accepted.
"We approached them and said, 'We can develop this service,'" George explained, adding that IDSi funded the $50,000 solution -- not the county.
To use the service, spraying companies register online for a free account. Once