Q: I live in Westchester County, N.Y., and received a notice from my neighbors that they will be applying commercial pesticides to their lawn. I have small children, a dog and a large vegetable garden, and I’m concerned about the pesticides drifting onto my property and harming all of them. How concerned should I be, and what can I do to protect my family?
A: Under the state’s Neighbor Notification law, which Westchester adopted in 2000, the notice you received should include the names of the pesticides being used and the name and contact information for the company applying them. The law requires commercial applicators and homeowners using their services to provide abutting residents with 48 hours’ notice before applying pesticides, with some exceptions.
Start by doing your research. Type the name of each chemical into PesticideInfo.org, a database created by the Pesticide Action Network, an advocacy group, or call the hotline for the National Pesticide Information Center at 800-858-7378. Once you’ve learned the risks of the chemicals being used, you can decide your next steps.
“You’ve got to know what you’re working with,” said Margaret Reeves, a senior scientist at the Pesticide Action Network, based in Berkeley, Calif. “Once you know that, you can see what the impacts are on different organisms.”
Depending on the type of pesticide and how close your property is to your neighbors’, and whether there’s a barrier, like a fence, you may need to take steps to protect your immediate environment. Warren Hanson, a pesticide specialist at the National Pesticide Information Center, suggests bringing your dog’s water bowl and your children’s toys inside. Close the windows, and stay off the grass for a day or two. “Each person can have a different sensitivity to pesticides,” he said.
You may also want to cover your vegetable garden. If that is feasible, Dr. Reeves recommends wearing gloves when you remove the covering and disposing of it carefully.
Keep in mind that these are probably not the only pesticides being applied in your neighborhood. The notification law has significant carve outs, including ones for granular pesticides, injections straight into the plant or ground, and emergency and spot applications. Homeowners who apply their own pesticides without hiring a professional do not need to inform their neighbors.
You may want to raise the issue with your neighbors, as they may be following the guidance of a professional without giving the issue much thought. Approach the conversation as one friendly neighbor speaking to another, keeping in mind that pesticides are legal and your neighbors have the right to treat their property. Suggest safer alternatives, like an integrated pest management approach. Beyond Pesticides, an advocacy group, offers organic alternatives for lawn management on its website.