(Beyond Pesticides, August 7, 2006)
August 3, 2006 marked the congressionally mandated deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) safety review of thousands of widely used pesticide products, from home lawn weed killers to insecticides used in food production. The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 required EPA to review and reregister food use pesticides, and reassess the amount of residues that are allowed on food, the tolerances, specifically with children’s unique vulnerability in mind. The review includes 231 organophosphate and carbamate pesticides, known to damage the developing nervous system of fetuses, infants, and children.
On the tenth anniversary of FQPA enactment, EPA completed over 99% or 9,637 of the 9,721 tolerance reassessment decisions resulting in recommendations for the revocation of 3,200 tolerances, the modification of 1,200 tolerances, and the confirmed safety of 5,237 tolerances. The reregistration process has resulted in cancellation of nearly 4,400 individual pesticide end-use product registrations out of a current universe of 17,592.
Simultaneously, EPA announced immediate cancellation of most uses of the highly toxic chemical carbofuran, after a review that has lasted more than two decades. Thanks to public pressure and overwhelming scientific data showing harm, the agency announced yesterday its conclusion that there are considerable risks associated with carbofuran in food and drinking water, risks to pesticide applicators and risks to birds that are exposed in treated fields. The pesticide, which is sold under the name “Furadan” by FMC Corporation, is one of the most toxic pesticides to birds left on the market. It is responsible for the deaths of millions of birds and wildlife since its introduction in 1967. See more on carbofuran decision.
So, is our food supply safer and our children fully protected? A look at the neurobehavioral associations of organophosphates exposures with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, a growing neurobehavioral disorder among children, suggests not. Trends available during the last 10 years show a major increase in ADHD among children. A 1999 Report of the U.S. Surgeon General on Mental Health Report states between 1.398 million (3%) and 2.330 million (5%) of school-age children had AD/HD. In 2003, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 4.4 million youth ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD and 7.8% of school-aged children were reported to have an ADHD diagnosis by their parent.
Scientific studies link exposure to certain common organophosphate pesticides, such as carbaryl ‚Äì a pesticide found on the shelves of retail stores as well as in agriculture – to adverse cognitive and behavioral effects in mice and other subjects. Research by Dr. Warren Porter, a researcher at University of Wisconsin, has shown that even low levels of pesticide exposure can cause endocrine disruption, which can lead to learning disabilities. Another study published in the March 2003 issue of Nature Genetics demonstrates a clear genetic link between exposure to organophosphate pesticides and neurological disorders such as ADHD and gulf war syndrome. A 2002 peer-reviewed study found children born to parents exposed to glyphosate (Roundup) show a higher incidence of attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity (ADD and ADHD). In 1995/96, glyphosate ranked as the second most used active ingredient in non-agricultural settings, with five to seven million pounds used in the home and garden and nine to twelve million pounds used in commercial settings.
On August 4, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (IG) issued an evaluation report of the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), entitled Measuring the Impact of the Food Quality Protection Act: Challenges and Opportunities, in time for EPA’s deadline. The report found that EPA has “made progress” in implementing the requirements of the FQPA, but that OPP has primarily measured its success and the impact of FQPA by adherence to its registration schedule rather than by reductions in risk to children’s health. It went on to say that the “measures used by OPP generally indicate actions taken, instead of environmental or human health outcomes achieved.” Whether this is because OPP is less focused and interested in keeping track of human health outcomes is unclear, as is the degree to which it has been engaged in achieving such outcomes.
On August 2, the New York Times reported on recent actions of Unions representing 9000 of EPA’s own staff scientists, “We are concerned that the agency has not, consistent with its principles of scientific integrity and sound science, adequately summarized or drawn conclusions” about the chemicals. The EPA scientists, also charge that EPA’s Administrator is willfully ignoring evidence that “pesticides damage the developing nervous systems of fetuses, infants and children,” and are calling on EPA to cancel the registrations of 20 pesticides in the organophosphate and carbamate chemical family. See May 24, 2006 letter by EPA scientists.
“EPA’s pesticide program allows corporate chemical company interests to trump science, putting the public and environment in harm’s way,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national public interest group.
Beyond Pesticides and other environmental and public health organizations identify a series of deficiencies in EPA’s review of pesticides, calling into question the safety of commonly used products.
EPA plans to complete reregistration eligibility decisions for the remaining 47 non-food use pesticide reregistration cases by October 3, 2008, as required by the 2004 amendments to FIFRA contained in the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA).