EPA, Enviros Disagree on Pesticide Reassessment
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, August 5, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claimed on Friday that it has met a Congressionally mandated deadline to reassess the safety of pesticides. But the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued the agency over its pesticide reviews and won a settlement setting a new deadline for reevaluating the chemicals, says the EPA has failed to act on the most toxic and highest priority pesticides.
In 1996, Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), ordering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reassess existing standards for allowable pesticide residues on food, also called tolerances. The EPA had until August 3, 2002, to complete its safety evaluations for more than 66 percent of existing pesticide tolerances.
On Friday, the EPA marked the "successful completion" of this second phase of its 10 year effort to reassess tolerances for thousands of chemical compounds.
"The rigorous scientific and public processes followed by EPA during this tolerance reassessment continues to strengthen our confidence in the overall safety of the nation's food supply and underscores the benefits of eating a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables," said Stephen Johnson, the EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.
"This accomplishment represents a great deal of work, not only by EPA staff but also significant contributions from many scientific experts, various stakeholders and the public," Johnson added.
Johnson said the EPA has now reassessed more than 6,400 tolerances for pesticide residues on food, giving priority to pesticide classes which may pose the greatest risk, including the organophosphate, carbamate, organochlorine classes, as well as pesticides which show evidence of causing cancer. The EPA has completed its tolerance reassessment for up to three-quarters of the individual pesticides in each of these various classes, he said, along with a number of other individual pesticides that are not part of these classes.
But the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) charges that the EPA is overstating its accomplishments, and has yet to review some of the most dangerous chemicals on the market. In August 1999, the NRDC sued the EPA, charging that the agency missed a congressionally mandated deadline under FQPA to review the most dangerous pesticides to ensure they are safe for infants and children, and failed to implement a program to test whether pesticides harm the body's hormone controlled endocrine system.
The suit also charged that the EPA missed deadlines for reviewing almost 200 pesticides registered before 1984, under 1988 amendments to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
Under a January 2001 settlement between the EPA and the NRDC, the EPA agreed to complete assessments of all 39 organophosphate insecticides on the market by August 2002, and set timetables for reviewing the cumulative effects of several other classes, including carbamates and triazines.
The settlement also required the EPA to decide on a specified timetable how it will control or eliminate the risks of 11 highly hazardous pesticides: phosmet, azinphos-methyl, propargite, chlorpyrifos, atrazine, carbaryl, benomyl, endosulfan, lindane, diazinon and metam sodium. On Friday, the EPA announced it has completed its reassessments of four of those chemicals: benomyl, diazinon, endosulfan and lindane.
The EPA promised to review actions to protect farm workers from three of the most risky insecticides used on crops - azinphos methyl, chlorpyrifos and diazinon - and agreed to initiate a program testing for the effects of pesticides and certain other chemicals on the body's endocrine system.
While the EPA now claims to have reassessed more than 6,400 tolerances, the NRDC says that the agency has not completely reviewed all those tolerances. In fact, many of the pesticides it claims to have reviewed were already off the market or rarely used, making their review less urgent than the hundreds of hazardous chemicals still on the market, the group says.
"EPA is using Enron like accounting to claim that it has met the mandate of the law," said Erik Olson, a senior attorney at NRDC. "As this latest deadline passes with little agency action on the most toxic and highest priority pesticides, EPA's delay only benefits the chemical industry at the expense of our children's health."
The NRDC is now reviewing the EPA's compliance with the 2001 consent decree, as well as the agency's compliance with the August 3 deadline.
The EPA says it has now revoked more than 1,900 tolerances after finding evidence of risks to adults and children. Some of the tolerances were canceled because combinations of certain pesticides, or the cumulative effects of these chemicals, were found to be dangerous.
The agency developed new methods for assessing combined exposures from food, water and residential sources of exposure, which provide a more complete picture of risk than had previously been possible, the EPA says. The EPA also developed methods for assessing the cumulative risk of multiple pesticides that have a common mechanism of toxicity.
More information on tolerance reassessment is available at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/tolerance/
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