Archive for the ‘Pesticides’ Category

New EPA Regulations Put Much-Needed Safety Measures on Pesticide Use

Photo by Michael D. Heckman. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Michael D. Heckman. Some rights reserved.

Late last week, the EPA released a pre-publication copy of a Federal Register proposed rule increasing safety measures surrounding pesticide use by agricultural workers and farmers. The new standards would impose new restrictions and requirements in an effort to better protect America’s 2-million strong agricultural workforce. Seems like a good time to do so – the last time the standards were updated was 1992, and obviously a lot has changed, agricultural-technology wise and everything-else wise, in the last two decades. As it stands, 12,000 workers are afflicted with acute pesticide poisoning in the U.S. every year, and it’s been suggested that this figure is actually a very conservative estimate, as cases of poisoning go extremely under-reported.

The new protocol as set forth in the EPA’s proposed rule will require a yearly training course on pesticide use and safety for all agricultural workers (the old standards required these only every five years), which seems like a no brainer. They also require farms that use pesticides to construct “buffer zones” around the area where pesticides are used to protect those nearby from drifting toxins, and for No Entry signs to be put up in these areas. So far so good! Perhaps the most significant restriction imposed by the new rules is that agricultural workers must now be 16 years of age or older to work on a farm that uses pesticides (family farms being the exception). Of course, this may also be the hardest component of the rule to implement, without creating some sort of expensive task force to go farm to farm and enforce it.

The rules will now enter a 90-day comment period following their publication in the Federal Register. The EPA hopes to publish the final rule by next year.

The Frogs Are Our Future

Photo by Shek Graham. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Shek Graham. Some rights reserved.

Bad news for you Sierra Nevada fans (and no, I’m not talking about the beer). The Los Angeles Times reports this week that pesticides being used on crops in California’s Central Valley are having a dramatically negative effect on frogs living in the Sierra Nevada mountains over 100 miles away. Frogs are a crucial component of California’s gorgeous northern wilderness (which includes the famed Yosemite National Park, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Stanislaus National Forest, and Lake Tahoe), as they provide food for birds and other, larger wildlife, and keep the bug population in the area in check.

In 2009 and 2010, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey examined tree frogs from seven sites in the Sierra Nevada area, and found evidence of ten different pesticides present in their tissue, which include pyraclostrobin and tebuconazole (fungicides), simazine (herbacide), and a degraded form of the infamous DDT (outlawed in 1972). Scientists with the USGS also noted with some curiosity that the same chemicals were not detected in the water of the same areas, and only a few were picked up in the soil, which indicates that testing from tissue may be a more precise and accurate form of pesticide testing. The amounts found in the study were noted by the researchers as “trace,” so it’s very difficult to tell what the ultimate effects will be, both long term and short term, as these chemicals have never been found or studied in frogs before. But the measure of effects is almost beside the point: the chemicals are present, and being carried across a distance much further than we would have imagined them able to travel. That in itself is a revelation, and should be of some concern.

Endangered Species Act “Mega-Lawsuit” Seeks EPA Review of 300+ Pesticides

Photo by C. G. P. Grey. Some rights reserved.

Southwest Farm Press reports that the Plaintiffs and Defendants in Center for Biological Diversity et al v. Environmental Protection Agency et al have filed a joint status report requesting a 30-day continuation of the stay of the litigation and the postponement of the October 14 status conference until November 18.

The lawsuit kicked off in January of this year, when the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) filed a complaint against the EPA for “its failure to consult with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts of hundreds of pesticides known to be harmful to more than 200 endangered and threatened species,” according to a CBD press release. The press release calls the lawsuit “the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled species from pesticides.”

The specific relief requested by the plaintiffs is as follows:

1. Declare that EPA is violating Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA by failing to consult with the Service [United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) (collectively “Service”)] concerning effects of pesticides on the endangered and threatened species and critical habitat identified herein;

2. Order EPA to begin or reinitiate consultation pursuant to Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA on the effects of pesticides identified herein on the endangered and threatened species and critical habitats identified herein in an expeditious fashion;

3. Order appropriate restrictions on the use of the identified pesticides where they may affect endangered and threatened species and critical habitats until the consultation process has been completed and EPA has brought its pesticide registrations into compliance with Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA;

4. Award Plaintiffs’ costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees; and

5. Grant Plaintiffs such additional and further relief as the Court may deem just and appropriate.

In June more than 130 organizations and business banded together with CBD and PANNA and sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson echoing the demands of the lawsuit:

“Specifically, we ask the EPA to immediately initiate formal consultations under the Endangered Species Act with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts of pesticides known to be harmful to hundreds of federally threatened and endangered species.”

Yet the letter also implores the EPA to take action without being compelled: “Rather than waiting for a court order, the EPA should comply with its statutory responsibility and revise its pesticide review program to incorporate input from federal wildlife agencies.”

The parties in the lawsuit have been exploring the possibility of settlement since May, but as of now, no substantive agreements have been reached.

New Studies Link Prenatal Pesticide Exposure to All Sorts of Upsetting Things

Photo by davhor. Some rights reserved.

Late last month, a trio of studies linking prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides with child development issues were unleashed in California and New York, causing an understandable stir. The class of organophosphate pesticides, commonly used on food products, has been thought in the past to be preferable to organochloride pesticides, because of its faster degradation rate. However, these studies, which were undertaken by researchers at Colombia University and Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and at UC Berkley in California, indicate that overexposure to these pesticides, in situations where they were used in apartment buildings and residences and when used in agricultural centers, relates directly to lower IQ scores and attention disorders.

Researchers at UC Berkley’s School of Public Health monitored 329 children living in the Salinas Valley for their study, where agriculture is a key component of everyday life. The researchers found that every 10-fold increase in the internal measure of organophosphate pesticide levels corresponded directly with a 5.5 point drop in intelligence. This troubling information comes almost exactly a year after the results of a similar study showed that higher levels of organophosphate pesticides found in children age five and under results in significantly higher risk of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), a study that itself corresponds with the findings of a 2010 study by Harvard University’s Health department that linked pesticide exposure to “high blood pressure and a decreased neurological ability to copy shapes.”

The studies at Colombia and Mount Sinai, meanwhile, also seem to speak for themselves, boasting similar findings in children 8 to 9 living in inner city neighborhoods such as the South Bronx and Harlem. According to these studies, any significant increase in prenatal exposure to pesticides corresponds with an average 1.4% drop in IQ and a 2.8% drop in working memory.

The California Birth Defects Monitoring Program reports that three out of every four women are exposed to pesticides around the home, a frightening statistic to say the least. While the American Pregnancy Association recommends avoiding pesticides in general when pregnant, for many of the women participating in these studies who live in dense urban or agricultural areas, this is simply not an option. While pesticide-apologists argue that these studies are inconclusive because of other factors surrounding their population base, the EPA is currently reviewing policy on organophosphate pesticides to make sure that regulations are tight enough. However, these studies are sure to bring out the skeptics, and perhaps rightly so.

EPA Reconsiders Its Stance on Methyl Iodide

Photo by flickr user Lee Jordan. Some rights reserved.

Methyl iodide, also known as iodomethane, is a chemical compound that was first sanctioned for use as a pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, etc. in a controversial October 2007 decision by the EPA. No sooner had the use of the chemical been proposed than over 54 scientists nationwide, including five Nobel laureates in chemistry, wrote in to the EPA urging them to reconsider. In a letter to the EPA’s Stephen Johnson dated September 24, 2007, UC Berkeley’s Dr. Robert G. Bergman expresses his concern that “pregnant women and the fetus, children, the elderly, farm workers, and other people living near application sites would be at serious risk if methyl iodide is permitted for use in agriculture,” and that “because of methyl iodide’s high volatility and water solubility, broad use of the chemical will result in exposures for many people.” On the EPA’s fact sheet on the chemical, it is mentioned that exposure to the chemical by inhalation can “depress the central nervous system, irritate the lungs and skin, and affect the kidneys.”

In an interview on KQED news, current EPA administrator Lisa Jackson brought up the potential for re-evaluation but emphasized that her organization had made no new decision as of yet, stating that the EPA “did take a long, hard look before approving the use of methyl iodide” originally. Susan Kegley, consulting scientist for the Pesticide Action Network of North America, disagreed in a press release distributed last week, stating that “an immediate withdrawal of methyl iodide from the market is the best strategy for preventing adverse effects from this highly toxic pesticide.”

Today, methyl iodide use has been banned in Washington and New York states, but the compound is still consistently used elsewhere, especially in the agricultural centers of California, where it is commonly used as a pesticide for strawberries. In response to continued concerns, the EPA has decided to reopen the public comment period regarding the toxic chemical, encouraging scientists, doctors, and anyone else passionate about the issue to write in with their opinions. The deadline for comments is April 30th, 2011. Pesticide Action Network have also drafted their own petition letter, which they hope supporters will sign.

The EPA’s Rules for Intentionally Dosing Human Test Subjects with Pesticides

On January 19th, 2011, the EPA published a proposed rule intended to strengthen protections for human test subjects in third-party studies. The proposed rule updates and “tightens” the existing regulations that govern the protection of human subjects, which are codified at 40 CFR Part 26.

Photo from Some rights reserved.

This particular set of proposed changes was required under the terms of a 2006 settlement with the NRDC and other health advocates. The initial lawsuit was filed in response to the EPA final rule – published earlier that year – that makes up the current set of protections.

While the EPA had previously accepted such studies, in 2001 the EPA issued a press release stating that they would not consider or rely on “third-party intentional dosing human toxicity studies for pesticides” until the National Academy of Sciences provided them with ethical guidance on the topic.

However, shortly thereafter, the pesticide industry sued the EPA over the press release, arguing that its seemingly casual “interim policy” constituted a “binding regulation, […] which should not have been issued without notice of proposed rulemaking and opportunity for public comment.” The court agreed, and reinstated the EPA’s practice of considering, on a case-by-case basis, some third-party human studies.

Between 2002 and 2006 the EPA drafted, solicited comments on, and eventually finalized a rule that attempted to “formalize and further strengthen existing protections for subjects in human research conducted or supported by EPA, and to extend new protections to adult subjects in intentional dosing human studies for pesticides conducted by others who intend to submit the research to EPA.”

But this rule still left something to be desired, and NRDC et al. stepped in with their aforementioned lawsuit. According to the NRDC, the human testing rule, which generally prohibits pesticide testing on pregnant women and children, still “allows parents or other authority figures to allow pesticide testing on their children in some circumstances.” These “circumstantial” exceptions, NRDC argued, violated the 2006 Appropriations Act because they “did not bar all pesticide research with pregnant women and children.” Luckily the EPA’s recent proposed rule eliminates this “loophole.”

You may submit comments on the proposed rule within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register, which is expected soon.


Pop Culture Trivia: The EPA, noticeably sensitive about the human subject testing regulations after so many lawsuits, found it necessary to post a response on their website after an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit aired that depicted research involving pesticide testing and was “filled with factual inaccuracies.”

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