(Beyond Pesticides, December 20, 2004)
EPA is secretly negotiating a Christmas present for the Dow Chemical Company that allows continued production and use of its controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos (Dursban) for home termite use three years beyond an announced phase-out, which was to begin December 31, 2004. The agency, according to inside sources, appears poised to grant Dow Chemical a three-year extension on a planned phase-out for termite use on new homes announced as a part of a major reduction in residential uses in June 2000. The phase-out of remaining termite uses was to take effect at the end of this year, by December 31, 2004, when production was to stop, followed by a use prohibition to take effect at the end of 2005.
With much fanfare in June 2000, EPA announced the end of chlorpyrifos for residential uses because of concerns associated with neurotoxic effects in children. EPA said, “Through this review, EPA has determined that chlorpyrifos, as currently used, does not provide an adequate margin of protection for children. This action adds a greater measure of protection for children by reducing/eliminating the most important sources of exposure… Over the next several years, remaining uses, including spot and local termiticide treatments and pre-construction termiticide applications, will be phased out.” (See “Questions and Answers for Consumers about Chlorpyrifos,” June 8, 2000.) Since its 2000 announcement, EPA has not disclosed new data justifying continued exposure to a chemical that the agency has linked to adverse health effects, particularly in children. However, sources say that a new Dow risk assessment finds “acceptable” risks, while EPA does not have new indoor air monitoring data on treated homes, which experts say is necessary in reassessing risk and reversing its earlier agreement with Dow. Advocates question why these issues have not been resolved since the announced phase-out in 2000 and before next week’s deadline.
“If EPA proceeds with this deal, it is shirking its basic responsibility to protect children and the public from hazardous pesticides like chlorpyrifos and only serving the interests of Dow Chemical,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national environmental and public health group based in Washington, DC. “There are widely available alternatives which make this hazardous chemical simply unnecessary,” he said.
A 2000 square foot home requires that 380 gallons of pesticide be pumped into the ground. In a 100-home subdivision, about 38 thousand gallons are used. Pre-construction termiticide use is estimated at 400 million gallons.
As an alternative approach, borates can be applied directly to wood during the dried-in phase of construction, saving the builder time and money and providing termite protection for as long as the wood is in service. Borate-based products exhibit low toxic exposure to humans and other mammals. Other alternatives include steel mesh barriers and steel termite shields under and around foundations.
TAKE ACTION: Contact EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt and tell him to stop the continued use of chlorpyrifos for termites and enforce the 2000 phase-out agreement. For more information on the chlorpyrifos phase-out, read Beyond Pesticides’ Low Down on Dursban story that ran in the Spring 2000 issue of Pesticides and You.