Local governments can get sloppy with outsourced pesticide application records.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Short of changing the law, there’s not much citizens can do to stop private licensed applicators from using pesticides. But they should be able to hold government officials accountable for the chemicals applied in public spaces using public money. As it turns out, that’s a complicated task.
To some extent, the regulatory system is set up to record government pesticide use. Chemicals applied by agencies’ own licensed applicators are reported to the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. These are easy to track, though the exact application sites aren’t specified.
There’s a catch: Public agencies often hire private pest-control businesses to apply pesticides for them. There’s no county record of these applications, other than the monthly totals reported by pest-control businesses for all of their clients, both public and private. Companies are not subject to public records requests and generally do not release their files.
How, then, can a citizen find out if a private pest-control company has sprayed a neighborhood park? By submitting a public records request, asking the agency in charge to hand over records of outsourced pesticide applications, which should detail what contractors applied pesticides where, and for how much money—at least in theory.
To obtain data from local governments about contracted pesticide applications in 2006-2007, the Weekly submitted two rounds of public records requests (one in 2007 and one in 2008) to the county and the cities of Salinas, Monterey, Marina, Seaside, Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea. We later asked the city of Greenfield and Pebble Beach Company for their pesticide application policies.
Cobbling together two years of ag commissioner data with agency contractor information was difficult. Local government staff circulated the requests to multiple departments that apply pesticides, often involving public works, parks and recreation, forestry, water resources and community development.
Some data arrived on time and complete. Other data were incomplete, illegible, or missing.
Cities of Marina, Pacific Grove and Greenfield; Monterey County Water Resources Agency; Monterey County Public Works Department: No outsourcing of pesticide applications. Data complete.
City of Seaside, Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, Monterey County Parks Department: Pesticides applied by both staff and contractors. Data complete.
Carmel-by-the-Sea: Applications performed by contractors. 2006 records are complete, but 2007 records lack pesticide identities and quantities. Data incomplete.
City of Salinas: Applications by staff and contractors. 2006 and 2007 data provided, but some quantities are missing or illegible. Data incomplete.
City of Monterey: Documents from 2006 and 2007 provided, but application details are missing or illegible. Building, public works and park departments were unable to locate the originals. Data incomplete.
Pebble Beach Company: Data reflect pesticide use by licensed applicators with Pebble Beach Forestry / Roads, Pebble Beach Golf Course, Pebble Beach Lodge and Pebble Beach Nursery. The company oursources pest control of buildings, according to Community Affairs Vice President Mark Verbonich, but data weren’t available by deadline.