Nobody Nose the Trouble I've Seen

Are you felled by pesticides at distances of a mile or more? Can you lobby hard for legislation? Welcome to the club.

A one-time real estate agent, Mason now spends her days crusading. "I had to quit my work because if I was showing a property and they sprayed nearby, I could be in a life-threatening situation," she explains. "Imagine if one of those lawn-care trucks pulled up and I had to say, `Oh, no, we've got to get out of here. I can't show you this house.' I'd look like an idiot." Once exposed to toxins, even as far away as a mile, Mason says she suffers from symptoms that include nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, headaches, muscle pain, tissue swelling, elevated blood pressure, an overactive bladder, excessive salivating, vertigo, plugged ears, excessive sweating, strange dreams, and an uncomfortable feeling under her left breast. "These chemicals are nerve gas," she insists, "the same as came out of Nazi warfare." Mason maintains she is not opposed to pesticides across the board, but is pushing for people to use less-toxic alternatives.

The response from the $1.5 billion pest-control industry, which thrives in lawn-crazed South Florida, has been predictable resistance. Sprayers such as Leon Carangi, an eighteen-year veteran and owner of Bugbusters, says the added requirements will both jack up the price of lawn service and cause some companies simply to cancel accounts in neighborhoods with chemically sensitive troublemakers. Like most spray pros, Carangi invokes the fact that the chemicals he uses have passed muster with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But that argument is hardly compelling when you consider that EPA is itself re-evaluating the danger of various pesticides, owing to its own previously lax standards. "There's always a better way to manage your property than to dump pesticides on it," observes Charles Trichilo, chief of EPA's Occupational and Residential Exposure branch. "But it takes more time, so people choose the expedient route."

Given the national mood concerning pesticides, pest-control companies look to be in for a rough time. In the past five years, two dozen states have enacted spraying-notification laws and a handful have started registries. A series of congressional hearings on lawn spraying resulted in the recently proposed federal "Notification of Chemical Application Act," which, if passed into law, will require that lawn-care companies post a sign 72 hours before spraying and notify neighbors within several hundred feet. "The bill does not include a registry," notes Elaine Francis, a legislative aide to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat who proposed the measure. "Largely because of what we heard - that they're ineffective.

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