Do You Know How Many Pesticides End Up in New York?

Who has higher levels of pesticide exposure, New Yorkers or rural dwellers near commercial farms?

The answer might surprise you: for at least two classes of pesticide, New Yorkers are actually more exposed, despite the fact that we associate pesticide use with the application of such chemicals to crops to protect them from destruction during growing and harvest season. Research on the subject has significant implications for pest management and environmental health.

Where are all these pesticides in New York coming from, and what can we do about it?

While these chemicals play a classic role in pest management for crops, and some certainly do reach the city on industrially produced produce and other goods, the bulk of that exposure is actually the result of the use of pesticides in the city itself. New York, like many urban areas, has problems with rats, mice, bedbugs, fleas and other animals that delight in crowded human civilization as a source of food, shelter, nesting material, and more. Residents fight back with all they can, which includes a toxic arsenal of pesticides.

Large-scale pest management as in apartment buildings can be challenging, and these chemicals may be applied heavily and indiscriminately as a result. While residents may be temporarily relocated for a few hours or days during treatments, pesticide residue remains when they return. They don’t just pick it up at home, but in offices, restaurants, the homes of friends, and a variety of other locations, including public parks. The entire city is a chemical soup including not just echoes of pest treatments past, but also smog, industrial pollution and other environmental toxins.

Pesticide residue also accumulates over time, because the compounds break down slowly indoors without light, heat and weather to do their work. Especially in older buildings, residues of pesticides that have since been banned can be present, passing on a legacy of health problems to new residents who may be completely unaware of it. The problem is one that stretches across the city, from the towers of Manhattan to the depths of the subway system, and it requires a multipronged approach.

For one thing, pesticide regulation needs to consider city dwellers as well as farm workers and people who come into close contact with industrial agriculture. That regulation can’t get rid of existing buildup, but it can prevent the addition of harmful chemicals to the environment. In addition, cities may need to start thinking about more ecologically-friendly methods of pest management and control, reducing the need for pesticides in the first place.

While some applications will be inevitably necessary, the consequence of the crowded environment, others might be mitigated by keeping environments clean, well-lit (cockroaches, for example, hate lighted environments), and free of food sources. Organic and natural pesticides may need to be considered as well to control populations without harming people, pets and plants.

For residents, washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly before consumption can help reduce the amount of pesticides consumed with food. Newer buildings are generally safer, although relocation may not always be an option. Residents can ask about the history of pesticide applications at a given location and request information on which compounds were used to determine their risk level.

Photo credit: alphaundomega.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Sheila D.
Sheila D4 years ago

So Very glad not to be living in NYC...had friends who moved there, but lasted only 6 months due to all the insects and rodents infesting everywhere. Maybe the people should move out and let the exterminators have the place for a year...but then who'd want to live with all the pestcide residue...and dead things.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman4 years ago

My sympathies to Cathleen K. If coockroaches are anywhere near your dwelling, they'll find you, regardless of how clean you are. And they can survive on almost any food; Cockroaches in Norman, OK were eating the glue off my stamps.

On a vacation stay in a Maui condo, we tried dusting the kitchen counter tops with lots of boric acid powder. After about two days the cockroaches disappeared. I don't know how toxic the powder is to pets and humans.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago

Very good article.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K4 years ago

Anyone here recommending that NYC go without pesticides ever live in an apartment building? Having lived in Manhattan on and off for half of my life, I have to tell you that no matter how clean you are personally, you will get invaded by cockroaches and mice, which you will then have to kill. If you don't (assuming you're sane), your bit of extremely high priced real estate will become unlivable. The mice are fairly easy. You conduct a search and find where they are coming in and stuff the entrances with steel wool, then trap and kill those in your apartment. Rinse and repeat, because they'll be back in a month or two, having gnawed through something else. The alternative is to put up with mouse shit in your bed and on your dinnerware. No thanks. I've tried baking soda, etc., on the roaches, and guess what? It doesn't work very well and requires you to skip vacuuming, which actually compounds the problem. Life in the big city is about as comparable to life in your suburban three bedroom as is the oh-so-popular among morons comparison to family and federal budgets.

Angela Ray
Angela Ray4 years ago

Yes. If I can imagine the number of people.

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago


JL A4 years ago

good to know

Nicole W.
Nicole W4 years ago

one is too many for anywhere

Katie K.
Katie K4 years ago

What good is it to know your risk level when where you sit is all you got. There are so many natural pesticides but then big chem wouldn't be raking in all them $$'s Give me food with a brown spot or a bug bite any day. Even what you use to wash you foodstuffs is some sort of chemical. It's a constant circle. I hope our youngins know that there were people like us out there that did not want this for them let alone ourselves. How do you fight something like this? Our air, water, food, health and hygiene products and our habitats are toxic soups because some monsters decided it was better this way. Sigh Forgive us my children.