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Monday, March 22, 2010

TruGreen Agrees to $500,000 Fine


ALBANY NY -- A major lawn care company in the Capital Region has been fined $500,000 by the state for misapplying pesticides, keeping inaccurate records and using uncertified or untrained workers.

TruGreen agreed to the penalty from the state Department of Environmental Conservation under an agreement filed this week. The state agreed to suspend $100,000 of the penalty if the company, which paid a hefty state fine in 1999, hires an outside expert to recommend ways for TruGreen to fix its problems.

DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson said there were more than 100 separate violations dating back to 2007. Most were for lawn-care contracts in the Capital Region, he said.

There were further violations cited in DEC Region 1, which includes Long Island, according to a consent order with the DEC signed Tuesday by TruGreen Vice President Joseph Brown.

According to DEC, an investigation into company records for 2007, 2008 and 2009 found "many instances" where pesticides were not applied under label directions. That included cases where pesticides were applied during high winds and near water despite directions against such use.

The state also found the company filed inaccurate annual reports with DEC in 2007 and 2008, failed to keep accurate information on customer invoices from 2007 to 2009, and in two instances, had workers with no record of being trained or certified for the pesticides applied.

And, in July 2009, liquid weed killer was dumped into a floor drain at the company's Albany branch at 23-A Walker Way, Colonie.

TruGreen spokeswoman Susanna Weston said the Tennessee-based company will "evaluate its current internal environmental operations and prepare enhanced environmental protocols." She added TruGreen was "pleased" by the settlement and expected to cooperate further with DEC.

Under the agreement, TruGreen must submit its outside expert plan to DEC within a year, and within six months of that, create an environmental manual describing how changes will be made at the "corporate, department and service" levels. Then, TruGreen will have to give DEC progress reports every three months.

TruGreen is the nation's largest lawn care service, and has about 2.5 million customers served by more than 300 branches located throughout the United States and Canada, the company said.

This is the second time in little more than a decade that the company, which on its Website touts its involvement in upcoming Earth Day events next month, has been hit with a major state fine.

In 1999, DEC fined the company $600,000 -- the largest state fine ever for pesticide violations -- for more than 35 applications of commercial lawn pesticides between 1994 and 1999.

TruGreen agreed to cut its pesticide use by 5 percent and search out environmentally-friendly Eco lawn care  alternatives, a compromise that lowered the penalty by $200,000.

"It's unfortunate that there can be no compensation to the numerous workers and community members that were unduly exposed during the commission of these violations. Nor will they be notified as individuals as to the potential health impacts of that exposure," said Kathleen Curtis, policy director of Clean New York, a Schenectady-based environmental advocacy group. "We need better pesticide laws to protect public health and the environment. Much-needed enforcement will only decrease, given the draconian cuts Governor Paterson is proposing to the essential work of this beleaguered agency"

Pesticide violations

Among pesticide violations at TruGreen, the nation's largest lawn chemical service, found by the state Department of Environmental Conservation:

The lawn services company's 2007 and 2008 annual reports to DEC, which describe amounts and types of lawn chemicals used, contained "numerous instances of inaccurate information." The reports are exempt from public disclosure, and can only been seen by public health researchers examining possible health impacts.

Numerous invoices for lawn care contracts from 2007, 2008 and 2009 failed to provide "required information or provided inaccurate information."

Six weeks of random pesticide application records from 2007, 2008 and 2009 found "many instances" where chemicals were used contrary to written label instructions. For example, pesticides were applied during high winds or near water, despite directions to the contrary.