Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, rebuffed for years in his effort to push legislation restricting the display and use of pesticides, is taking a new approach. The Montauk legislator has introduced a new anti-pesticide bill that barely mentions the word pesticide at all.
He is doing it to get around the claim that New York State law preempts any county laws on pesticides. His critics say that only the state and federal government have the power to control them.
The bill is now being considered in committee.
Mr. Schneiderman’s new measure follows, and is similar to, a 2005 bill he authored to limit the display of pesticides in stores in Suffolk. It was approved 11-7 by the Suffolk Legislature but vetoed by County Executive Steve Levy, who cited the preemption issue. A move to override the veto failed.
The new Schneiderman bill substitutes the words “toxic chemicals” for pesticides.
The old bill’s declaration of purpose indicated it was intended to “ensure proper storage of pesticides in retail stores.” The new bill’s text gives its purpose as an effort to “protect children from accidental poisoning by requiring the proper storage of toxic chemicals in retail stores.”
The text of the new measure goes on to indicate “the manner in which many retailers store chemicals may allow children to come into contact with them, thereby violating federal and state safe storage requirements.” It makes the point that the New York State Constitution “empowers the county to take such actions as are necessary to protect the public health.”
The only mention of pesticides in the measure comes in a passage that says that “federal labeling guidelines require that pesticides and other chemical products contain one of three designations based on the toxicity of the product—‘Danger,’ ‘Warning’ or ‘Caution.'” It continues by saying “that products marked ‘Danger’ signal that the chemical is highly toxic and … very likely to cause acute illness from oral, dermal or inhalation exposure, or severe eye or skin irritation.”
The bill would require that “any chemicals that are labeled or that are required to be labeled” “Danger” or “Danger-Poison” or “Poison” shall be displayed in stores only in “a sealed and locked case with access limited to the seller or his or her agents or employees or stored out of the reach of children.” This parallels what the earlier bill required of pesticides so labeled.
The penalties for violation would be a warning by the county director of consumer affairs for the first offense and fines of up to $500 for the second “and all subsequent offenses.”
Also in an effort to make the new measure more acceptable, Mr. Schneiderman cites a precedent for the county regulating the display of merchandise displays by stores. He notes there was a 1998 county law “requiring retailers to limit public access to box-cutters.”
Mr. Schneiderman, in an interview last week, said his new measure is “really a public health law” that he felt compelled to draft after seeing “these bottles marked ‘poison’ on the bottom shelves” of stores. “My son could get hold of these bottles.”
His new measure emphasizes the public health angle by declaring that “public health and environmental protection are fundamental concerns” and “the health of every Suffolk County resident can be improved when exposure to toxins is minimized … Certain chemical products may expose Suffolk residents to health risks.”