EPA Sued for Backroom Deals With Pesticide Makers
By J.R. Pegg
WASHINGTON, DC, February 21, 2005 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is illegally negotiating and brokering regulatory agreements with pesticide manufacturers that are friendly to the industry, according a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The suit targets private deals the agency allegedly made over the regulation of atrazine, a widely used weed killer, and the highly toxic insecticide dichlorvos (DDVP).
"The EPA’s secret, backroom deals with pesticide makers are clearly against the law, and they are a threat to our health," said Aaron Colangelo, an attorney with NRDC.
Documents obtained by NRDC through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show that the EPA negotiated outcomes of pesticide reviews and committed to taking specific actions with industry, Colangelo said.
The suit, filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, DC, alleges these negotiations violated agency rules as well as federal laws that govern how regulations of harmful chemicals are developed and reported to the public.
The EPA’s press office said the agency is currently reviewing the specifics of the complaint and rejects the broad allegations outlined by the NRDC in its complaint.
In a statement sent to reporters, an EPA spokesperson said the agency’s evaluation of atrazine and DDVP is "based on a thorough review of an extensive body of the best available scientific data and studies and independent peer review."
The agency’s approach "to decision-making for older pesticides is widely considered to be a model for transparency and openness," according to the statement.
The lawsuit continues a long running legal battle NRDC has waged with the federal agency over its pesticide regulations.
In 1983 NRDC sued the agency for similar widespread violations committed under then EPA Administrator Ann Gorsuch.
The EPA settled NRDC’s case in 1984 and agreed to strict pesticide regulations that forbid secret meetings and private dealmaking.
But the agency is not following those regulations, said NRDC senior attorney Erik Olson said, and "apparently is back to its old bad habits."
"These deals are bad for public health, bad for the environment, and bad for democracy," Olson said.
This latest legal challenge comes from NRDC’s particular concern over the agency’s oversight of atrazine – one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States. Atrazine’s main manufacturer is the Swiss company Syngenta, based in Basel.
Atrazine is mainly applied to corn and soybean crops, but is also used on sorghum, sugarcane, pineapple, turf grass, and Christmas tree farms.
Some 70 million pounds of atrazine are applied annually to fields, lawns and golf courses across the United States and the EPA has found widespread atrazine contamination in U.S. waterways.
Recent data indicates more than one million Americans drink from water supplies contaminated with atrazine at potentially harmful levels.
Studies of people exposed to atrazine indicate that the chemical may be linked to a number of cancers, including prostate cancer and nonHodgkin's lymphoma.
Animal lab studies also have linked it to certain cancers and hormonal problems that could disrupt reproductive and developmental processes - there is particular concern that the chemical is seriously disrupting amphibian hormone and reproductive systems.
In 2003, scientists at the University of California-Berkeley, showed that atrazine exposure caused reproductive abnormalities in frogs, and said, The "current data raise concern about the effects of atrazine on amphibians in general and the potential role of atrazine and other endocrine-disrupting pesticides in amphibian declines."
The European Union recently banned atrazine because of pervasive drinking water contamination, but in October 2003 the EPA decided to reregister atrazine without holding manufacturers to any new restrictions.
The agreement announced by the EPA called on atrazine manufacturers to monitor streams and drinking water supplies for contamination.
The NRDC says internal agency documents obtained through a FOIA lawsuit show that the EPA negotiated the industry-friendly deal in private and without following the law.
EPA officials met secretly more than 40 times with representatives from atrazine’s main manufacturer, Syngenta, while the agency was evaluating the toxicity of the pesticide, Olson said.
The EPA allowed industry to negotiate the terms of the agreement, Olson said, and "essentially decided to do nothing."
Syngenta will monitor less than four percent of streams considered at greatest risk from atrazine contamination, Olson told reporters, and the EPA has not committed to making those results public.
The suit alleges similar private negotiations with the chemical company Amvac over the status of the insecticide DDVP.
DDVP is used in pest strips as well as crack and crevice fillers within the home.
It is a highly toxic organophosphate similar to nerve gas that causes permanent nervous system damage in young test animals, and may cause related abnormalities in exposed infants and children.
DDVP is classified by the World Health Organization as a Class IB, "highly hazardous" chemical. Dichlorvos is sold under many trade names including Vapona®, Atgard®, Nuvan®, and Task®.
The EPA has also designated dichlorvos as a hazardous substance and specific regulations regarding its disposal are in effect.
According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR), the main uses of DDVP are for insect control in food storage areas, greenhouses, and barns, and for parasite control in livestock. It is generally not used on outdoor crops. It is sometimes used for insect control in workplaces and the home. Veterinarians also use it to control parasites in pets.
The lawsuit alleges that the EPA is privately negotiating with Amvac, DDVP’s manufacturer, to allow the company to continue to sell the insecticide for many home and agricultural uses.
DDVP evaporates easily into the air, which is why it is usually used in enclosed areas, the ASTDR states. Once in the air, it can react with water vapor and be broken down.
Experiments in greenhouses and food storage areas show that 90 percent of the applied dichlorvos disappeared in three to six hours. The products of this breakdown are two chemicals called dimethyl phosphate and dichloroacetaldehyde. The ASTDR says, "These chemicals are less harmful than dichlorvos and are not believed to cause health effects in people."