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City reviews awarding of pesticide contract

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A Manhattan lawyer has accused the city Health Department of planning to award a contract for pesticide spraying to prevent the spread of the West Nile virus in 2001 to an Illinois company that has been under investigation by the state since January.

Joel Kupferman, a lawyer for the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, has been representing more than 10 workers who said they became sick last year after spraying pesticide to prevent the spread of the West Nile virus. The spraying was conducted by Clarke Environmental Mosquito Management, Inc., based in Illinois.

Kupferman said the city intends to give the contract again to Clarke Management despite a state investigation into the way the company trained its workers in 2000.

A spokeswoman for the city Health Department said Tuesday that Clarke Management was the only company to put in a bid for this year’s spraying contract.

“We’re reviewing that to see if we should go ahead or try to go another way,” said spokeswoman Sandra Mullen.

Mullen, who said the process of finding a company to handle the spraying began a couple of months ago, would not comment on what would happen if the Health Department rejected Clarke Management’s bid for the contract.

A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation said Tuesday Clarke Management has been under investigation since the beginning of the year following allegations that the company failed to properly train its workers to handle the pesticides in 2000.

The workers claimed they were not properly trained or given safe equipment to handle the pesticide “Anvil” by Clarke Management. Anvil was sprayed throughout the five boroughs in 2000 to prevent the spread by mosquitoes of the West Nile virus.

The 1999 outbreak of the exotic mosquito-borne virus was the first ever reported in the Western Hemisphere. While the Health Department insisted that its chosen pesticide in 1999 — malathion — was safe to use, some environmentalists and community activists protested the chemical.

Given the controversy surrounding the 1999 spraying campaign, in 2000 the city Health Department switched to two different pesticides, Anvil and “Scourge.”

Four people from Queens died during the 1999 outbreak and dozens were sickened. While the virus reappeared in the summer of 2000, only one Queens resident became ill during the outbreak and no one died.

Peter Constantakes, a spokesman for the state DEC, said Clarke Management has been under investigation since mid-January because of the worker’s allegations.

“It was brought to our attention that there were allegations of some training requirements that weren’t met,” he said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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