States Sue Hud Over Pesticide Use In Public Housing

New York State Attorney General Spitzer and five other state attorneys general today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over the agency's failure to reduce use of pesticides in public housing as required by federal law.

The lawsuit was filed by Attorneys General from New York, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the US Virgin Islands. Community and environmental leaders joined Spitzer in this announcement.

The action seeks to reduce pesticide exposure of families who live in public housing. Specifically, it asks the court to direct HUD to promote and use "Integrated Pest Management" (IPM), a more effective method of pest control that prevents pest problems by improving sanitary and structural conditions in the housing stock and the use of mechanical, physical and biological controls. These controls can include the use of screens, traps, fixing leaking pipes and plugging holes in walls and doors. IPM effectively controls pest proliferation while minimizing the potential for health damage and harm to the environment by using pesticides only as a last resort.

The attorneys general noted that IPM can address pest problems in public housing without the excessive pesticide use that leads to more serious health concerns. By requiring an evaluation of the toxicity and exposure potential associated with any pesticide, it assures that the alternative used has the lowest toxicity and risk but is still effective.

New York Attorney General Spitzer said: "Pesticides are poisons that can damage people's health. There is a danger that infants and children will be harmed as a result of pesticide exposure. It is imperative that HUD fulfill its legal obligation to promote the use of Integrated Pest Management to effectively control pests and improve the quality of life and the health of millions of people who live in HUD housing."

On October 8, 2003, state Attorneys General petitioned HUD to require HUD-funded public housing developments to adopt and implement IPM. HUD denied the request in December 2003. While HUD did not dispute the accuracy of the evidence presented in the petition, it argued that its modest efforts to address the problem met its obligations under the law.

In this suit, the states ask the Court to order HUD to require HUD-funded public housing developments to implement IPM. The states also request that the Court find that HUD's prior inaction on this matter violated federal law.

This action was praised by community leaders.

"Spraying pesticides in public housing projects is tantamount to putting poison in baby food, because as an expectant mother ingests the toxins in the pesticides sprayed around her public housing home she passes those toxins to the fetus in her womb. The same is true for a mother who is breast feeding. The suit brought by Attorney General Spitzer will contribute significantly to the health of families in public housing," said City Council Deputy Majority Leader and Chair of the Council's Committee on Pest Control Bill Perkins.

Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood, Pastor of St. Paul's Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn and Chair of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation said, "This lawsuit should embarrass the President and his HUD secretary. While they lather rich rhetoric about leaving no children behind, they avoid the most obvious remedy to the worst public health threat that American children face today: exposure to triggers that have dramatically increased asthma rates, particularly in poor communities."

"We applaud Attorney General Spitzer and his colleagues for pushing HUD to abandon its outdated ‘spray-and-pray' approach to pest control in favor of safer methods," said Laura Haight, Senior Environmental Associate with the NY Public Interest Research Group. "Pilot projects in New York City have shown that non-toxic pest control techniques are far more effective, without the negative health consequences of exposing children and families to chemicals that can cause childhood cancers, learning disabilities, and asthma."

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act requires federal agencies to: "use Integrated Pest Management techniques in carrying out pest management activities and shall... promote Integrated Pest Management through procurement or regulatory policies, and other activities." This requirement was adopted by Congress in 1996 and IPM is being effectively utilized by other federal agencies.

A National Academy of Sciences National Research Council study and an October 1997 U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development report found that pesticide exposure has different effects on the developing body systems of infants and children than the rest of the population.

An August 2002 report by the New York Attorney General's Office, entitled "Pest Control in Public Housing, Schools and Parks: Urban Children at Risk," found widespread use of toxic pesticides at public housing projects across New York State. The report outlined how the use of pesticides could be substantially reduced without any loss of pest control effectiveness if housing managers practiced Integrated Pest Management.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said: "HUD is solving one problem with another problem – controlling pests, but poisoning public property and the children and citizens who live in public housing. There are safer and sounder affordable alternatives to these pesticides. Prevention and Integrated Pest Management is key to reducing the use of toxic chemicals that can make children vulnerable to brain and nervous system injury caused by overexposure to pesticides."

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said: "There is no reason to subject children and other residents of public housing to potentially harmful chemicals when there are other effective ways to deal with pests. We must use common sense and other tested, effective methods of pest control to ensure that kids are as safe as possible no matter where they live."

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid said: "Through the implementation of environmentally safer methods of behavioral pest control, and less reliance on chemical treatments, Integrated Pest Management provides more effective and healthier methods of pest control. This should be the method of choice for HUD public housing developments, where infants and children may otherwise be exposed to harmful toxic pesticides from pest control practices."

Virgin Islands Attorney General Iver Stridiron said: "As we live in an area of tropical climate year-round, the Virgin Islands and particularly residents of HUD-funded and operated public housing developments are of necessity subjected to ongoing pest eradication activities. It is therefore imperative that best practices in pest control be utilized. Integrated pest management techniques have a greater potential to limit our residents' exposure to toxic pesticides."

Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said: "Environmental justice means everyone should be able to enjoy a clean and healthy environment regardless of their ethnic, economic or social circumstance. That is why I am joining this action against HUD to fulfill its legal obligation to provide children in public housing the same levels of safety from toxic pesticides that are enjoyed by other children."

The lawsuit was filed today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The case is being handled by New York Assistant Attorneys General Lisa Feiner, Pedro Medina, and Lemuel Srolovic and Chief Scientist Michael Surgan.