In the chaotic and weird world of regulating agricultural chemicals, EPA gets praised for banning one pesticide and sued for not banning another, all on the same day.
This morning, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco against the EPA to stop the continued use of a pesticide called endosulfan, which has already been banned by the European Union and 20 other countries, according to Kathryn Gilje, director of the Pesticide Action Network.
The suit, which was brought by a coalition of farm worker, public health and environmental groups demands that the EPA ban endosulfan, which is a DDT-like organochlorine. The groups charge that endosulfan is persistent in the environment and poisons humans and wildlife both in agricultural areas and in regions far from where it was applied.
“This dangerous and antiquated pesticide should have been off the market years ago,” said Karl Tupper, a staff scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “The fact that EPA is still allowing the use of a chemical this harmful shows just how broken our regulatory system is.”
Acute poisoning from endosulfan can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness and even death.
A 2007 study found that children exposed to endosulfan in the first trimester of pregnancy had a significantly greater risk for developing autism spectrum disorders. In addition, endosulfan has been found in food supplies, drinking water and in the tissues and breast milk of pregnant mothers, the suit states.
“Congress gave EPA the duty to protect the public from dangerous pesticides,” said Joshua Osborne-Klein, a Seattle-based attorney for Earthjustice who is representing the coalition. “EPA’s decision to keep endosulfan on the market despite the well-documented risks to children and wildlife is dangerous and illegal.”
Mae Wu, health attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, added: “When EPA doesn’t consider how a hazardous pesticide could impact the health of children, it is breaking the law. She called EPA’s approach to reviewing the safety of this chemical “flawed and dangerous – but also illegal.”
However, when it comes to another ag chemical, carbofuran, EPA has taken a surprisingly forceful and unusual action to protect children by revoking its license to be used.
The insecticide was initially approved by EPA to control pests in soil and on leaves in a variety of field, fruit, and vegetable crops – mostly corn, alfalfa, and potatoes – but now the agency has concluded that “that dietary, worker, and ecological risks are of concern for all uses of carbofuran. ”
“All products containing carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and do not meet safety standards,” the agency said in a statement. And added, “Due to considerable risks associated with carbofuran in food and drinking water, EPA is revoking the regulations that allow carbofuran residues in food. ”
Even though less than a million pounds of the chemical is applied in the U.S., the USDA opposed EPA’s action, saying the carbrfuran is “economically important.” Nevertheless, EPA stuck to its plans.
“Because dietary exposures to infants and children are of particular concern, the Agency is moving to revoke carbofuran tolerances first, before canceling carbofuran registrations,” said the EPA.
This is the first time in 20 years that the EPA has initiated regulatory action against a
registered pesticide,” said agency Spokesman Dale Kemery.
When a pesticide poses risks of unreasonable adverse effects and does not meet the agency’s food safety standard, EPA first tries to reach a voluntary agreement with the registrant, the manufacturer, to phase out or immediately terminate uses.
EPA had no indication that the manufacturer, FMC Corporation, would undertake a voluntary cancellation of carbofuran, explained Kemery.
“So we are moving ahead with tolerance revocation, an important step in the broader process of canceling all uses of carbofuran in the U.S.” he said.
EPA establishes tolerances for pesticides that may be found on foods, and can also revoke tolerances to better safeguard public health and the environment.
“EPA is finally doing the right thing with carbofuran, after years of people demanding that it be banned,” said Earthjustice’s Osborne-Klein. “EPA needs to do the same thing with endosulfan. Americans don’t want these poisons in our food, children, and environment.”
For far more details and background, check out Jen Sass’ blog at the NRDC.