Recent changes have taken place in New York State Region #2, which encompasses the five boroughs of New York City, when it comes to rodent baiting in sewers and catch basins. The Clean Water Act, which dates back to 1972, amended a much older law known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. Several additional changes have taken place since 1972. In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has taken this law and applied it to any pollutant discharged into any storm sewer system, combined sewer systems and their associated catch basins. How does this apply now to rodenticides? Does it also affect insecticides?
In New York State, a catch basin is considered a point source for discharge into waterways such as lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans. It is a requirement to obtain a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) Permit if applying any pesticides into these waters. The SPDES program is equivalent to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Both of these are meant to be used for aquatic pesticides and their application.
RODENTICIDE USE IN SEWERS. Currently, several rodenticides are labeled for use in sewers. One application method is to hang a block formulation of rodenticide into the catch basin using a wire attached to the gate. Because most catch basins are connected to a storm sewer system, the NYSDEC has interpreted the rodenticide to be a potential contaminate and cannot, therefore, be used in storm or combined sewer systems via the wire hanging technique in either catch basins or in manholes, because both may discharge at some point into the waterways. Thus, in New York State this prohibition of use is the case even if the label approves sewer applications.
An important distinction to note is that this allows for only sanitary sewers (not combined sewer systems) where rodenticides or insecticides may be applied. In other words, if a storm basin or combined sewer system requires an insecticide application for cockroaches, that application is no longer permitted in New York State Region #2; the rest of New York State may follow suit.
Unfortunately, New York City agencies involved in large major construction projects (e.g., Department of Design and Construction, Department of Buildings, etc.) are currently re-writing their specifications on bidding contracts to reflect these changes. To a large degree, this pesticide application code is backwards and will now present a real quandary for all parties in the future. For example, will pesticide manufacturers now have to revise their labels to reflect a New York State sewer applications clause? In the normal sequence of pesticide labeling and applications, the sequence is first, the law changes; second, the label is written to reflect the law; and lastly, the pesticide applicator must then abide by the new labeling regulations. Oddly, the pesticide labels approved for sewer applications as of this writing (in April 2018) still allow for sewer applications and their associated catch basins. It is important to note these methods were reviewed and approved by NYS purview agency, namely the Department of Environmental Conservation (e.g., NYSDEC).
NYC’s NEXT MOVE? Most pest management professionals understand the importance of controlling rats and mice in sewer environments because doing so provides important public health services to homes, apartments, schools, restaurants, hospitals and virtually all other urban entities of importance. The consequences of changing and further restricting previously approved application methods essentially means the State of New York is facilitating the proliferation of health-threatening rodents in communities everywhere. It is no coincidence that it is the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) that has been baiting thousands and thousands of NYC sewers and catch basins by the thousands over the past several decades. What’s more, it remains that the NYC Department of Health Agency will issue fines to property owners should the NYCDOH health inspectors discover rat feces on a property. Sewer rats commonly emerge from catch basins and forage over sidewalks, nearby properties and attempt to enter our stores and eateries of all sorts. It’s a no-brainer that sewer rats must be controlled as close to their source as possible.
With this in mind, one question looms large: How will The City of New York in their efforts to protect the health of New Yorkers everywhere, respond to these highly restrictive label changes? Another important question is how will property owners be able to prevent the increasing sewer rat populations from visiting and infesting their property areas causing new rat infestations, possible expensive city rat violations and the ensuring costs of extermination services ? It remains to be seen if the New York model leads to other problems and changes for other U.S. cities. I’m speculating that older cities with similar municipal sewers systems (e.g., Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, etc.), likely will respond to the New York City scenario with their own city-specific interpretations of these critical public health considerations and decisions. Let’s hope that common sense prevails.
Author’s acknowledgement: The author would like to tthank Dr. Bobby Corrigan for his input on this article.
Maestre, a board certified entomologist, is owner of Urban Environmental Pest Management Services. He works primarily with construction companies on city projects such as parks, new buildings, demolition, and city sewer and waterman repair and placements. He also is the author of “The Bed Bug Book: A Complete Guide to Prevention and Elimination.”