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F.ood & H.ealth : F.ood C.hemicals Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Controversy Surrounds EPA Review of Pesticides
By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay Reporter
Aug 2, 2006, 16:06

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Critics say process fails to protect the public; agency says its standards match highest in the world

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Fourteen states have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require pesticide manufacturers to list all ingredients -- including inactive ones -- on their product labels.

The request, made Tuesday, came the same day that the EPA said it had nearly completed a 10-year study of all pesticides used in the United States. That review, mandated by the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, all but guarantees the safety of Americans, agency officials said.

But critics said the EPA's interpretation of its responsibilities under the act doesn't go far enough to protect the public and that the process was fraught with politics.

The 14 states said they hope to force the EPA to require manufacturers to disclose even "inert" ingredients in pesticides that, the state officials say, pose health hazards. Currently, the EPA only requires that "active" toxic ingredients that kill insects and weeds be listed on labels.

Inert ingredients, which work to make the active chemicals more effective, make up as much as 99 percent of a pesticide, the state officials said. Inert ingredients are known or suspected causes of cancer, nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage, and birth defects as well as environmental damage, the Associated Press reported.

"There is no logical reason for EPA to mandate disclosure of those ingredients that harm pests, but exempt from disclosure other ingredients that cause serious health and environmental problems," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

In response, an EPA statement said: "Through testing, regulation and labeling, EPA ensures that products, which include both active and inert ingredients, are safe for the public and the environment."

Speaking at a press briefing Tuesday, EPA administrators said their 10-year effort to review all pesticides used in the United States was 99 percent complete.

"Americans can be assured that pesticide use meets the highest standards in the world," said Jim Gulliford, assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

The EPA's review evaluated 237 pesticide ingredients and covered 1,100 of 1,105 pesticides used in the United States, added Jim Jones, director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Program.

By law, the EPA must complete its 10-year review by Thursday.

Based on that review, the pesticide lindane will be banned as soon as its current license expires, agency officials said.

Lindane is banned in at least 52 countries, and its use is restricted in more than 33 others. Lindane is currently registered for use in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The United States still allows seeds for corn, wheat and a handful of other grains to be treated with lindane. In an average year, 142,000 pounds of lindane are used agriculturally in the United States for seed treatment.

Lindane use to control head lice and scabies also continues in the United States and Canada, according to the Pesticide Action Network North America, which seeks to limit pesticide use.

According to the network, lindane can cause seizures and damage to the nervous system and weaken the immune system. Studies have also shown a significant association between brain tumors in children and the use of lindane-containing lice shampoos. The insecticide is also a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor, the network contends.

According to the EPA's Gulliford, the agency's new standards for pesticides protect the public, those who work with pesticides, and the environment. In addition, the EPA plans to enact a new rule that would mandate a registration review for pesticides every 15 years, Jones noted.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that a May 24 letter to the EPA from unions that represent thousands of EPA staff scientists said the agency was "bending to political pressure [from the pesticide industry] and ignoring sound science in allowing a group of toxic chemicals to be used in agricultural pesticides."

Those chemicals, the letter said, "pose serious risks for fetuses, pregnant women, young children and the elderly through food and exposure and should not be approved by Thursday," the EPA's deadline for its review.

The chemicals in question are organophosphates and carbamates, long a matter of controversy over their environmental and health risks. They are in such pesticides as chlorpyrifos, methyl parathion and diazinon, the Times said.

"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 letter said. The union leaders also said they believed that under priorities of EPA management, "the concerns of agriculture and the pesticide industry come before our responsibility to protect the health of our nation's citizens."

In a June 27 reply, the EPA's acting assistant administrator, Susan B. Hazen, wrote that the agency was "committed to complying with EPA's statutory mandate to protect public health and the environment from unacceptable risks associated with the use of pesticides. To this end, we have made the use of sound science in reaching regulatory decisions a top priority."

"One of the most fundamental principles of democracy in America is that all citizens have a right to express their concerns to their government," Hazen wrote. "Over nearly ten years of FQPA (Food Quality Protection Act of 1996) implementation, EPA's pesticide program has established a remarkable record of operating in a participatory and transparent process to make science-based decisions protective of the public interest, and we will continue to do so."

William Hirzy, a vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 280 and a senior scientist in the risk assessment division of EPA's Toxics Office, said the EPA is "basically accommodating the views of the pesticide industry and the people over at the Department of Agriculture -- that's what the people in pesticides that our unions represent are telling us. There seems to be an undue concern for those interests.

"If you read in between the lines of the agency's letter, it basically says that they found it useful to reach these consensus agreements with the pesticide manufacturers rather than get hung up in lawsuits," Hirzy said. "We don't think that's right in terms of what the science and the law requires."

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can tell you more about pesticides.

SOURCES: Jim Gulliford, assistant administrator, Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances; Jim Jones, Office of Pesticide Program, both U.S. Environmental Production Agency, Washington D.C.; William Hirzy, vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 280 and a senior scientist in the risk assessment division of EPA's Toxics Office; Aug. 1, 2006, EPA press briefing; Pesticide Action Network North America; Associated Press; The New York Times

Last Updated: Aug. 2, 2006

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