It isn't difficult to understand Connecticut's pesticide enforcement problem — just do the numbers.
Pesticides registered for use in the state: about 11,000. State-licensed pesticide applicators: 5,000-plus. State-registered pesticide businesses: 1,072.
Number of inspectors in the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to look after all of that: nine.
Are all those pesticides and herbicides being stored properly, used correctly and disposed of according to regulations? The answer, as it has been for many years, is: Who knows? And then there's the stuff private citizens are dumping on their lawns.
The situation is not only shameful right now, but potentially catastrophic for future generations.
DEEP is supposed to keep track of the use of chemicals on farms, lawns, roads and elsewhere, and by all accounts the agency does its best with its limited funds.
Its pesticide regulation unit, 25 percent smaller than it was 10 years ago, must rely on an old-fashioned system of paper reports — many of which, officials admit, aren't submitted annually by pesticide applicators because there's so little enforcement.
At the heart of the matter is money — or specifically, the lack of it. "The DEEP is terribly underfunded," said Erica Fearn, executive director of the Connecticut Environmental Council. "One of the agencies that takes the biggest hits when we're running a state deficit is always the DEEP," said state Sen. Ed Meyer, who said he will ask for more enforcement funds this year.
The legislature's stinginess, though misguided, is understandable. Possible environmental issues don't have the urgency of other pressing problems such as school security, the safety of children in the state's care, unemployment and infrastructure maintenance.
Metro-North derailments catch the public's attention. Unregulated pesticide use, not so much.
Yet there are already signs that the use of pesticides is a problem for the here-and-now, not just for some time in the future. Lobsters are declining alarmingly in Long Island Sound. Yale researchers say pesticides are linked to die-offs of honeybees and bats, both vital to agriculture because they pollinate crops.
Underfunding DEEP is indeed a way for this cash-starved state to save money in the short run. Whether our grandchildren will appreciate such penny-pinching is doubtful.