Court demands decision on wide-used pesticide

EPA required to make a decision on petition to ban use of chlorpyrifos.

The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with registering all pesticides but again is caught in the crosshairs of environmental groups pushing court order actions to get their end results.

The latest involves chlorpyrifos, one of the most widely used pest control products in the world. For nearly a decade EPA has been conducting a risk assessment and review on the pesticide. A new court order requires EPA issue a proposed or final revocation rule or a full or final response to a petition by Oct. 31. Previously EPA had said it planned to have something released by April 2016, but the court said the timeline continues to move.

In 2000, EPA announced an agreement with pesticide manufacturers to ban the application of chlorpyrifos in residential areas, but environmental groups said it hasn’t gone far enough.

In 2007, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a petition asking EPA to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos to give the same protection to rural children exposed through pesticide drift that the 2000 action provided to those in urbans areas.

EPA has spent nearly a decade reviewing PANNA’s petition. “We recognize the scientific complexity inherent in evaluating the safety of pesticides and the competing interests that the agency must juggle,” the court order said. “However, EPA’s ambiguous plan to possibly issue a proposed rule nearly nine years after receiving the administrative petition is too little, too late.”

In December 2014, EPA released a risk assessment for the pesticide chlorpyrifos that indicated that there may be drinking water risks in small, vulnerable watersheds. Recognizing the health and environmental risks from chlorpyrifos exposure, in 2012 EPA significantly lowered chlorpyrifos application rates and created “no-spray” buffer zones around public spaces, including recreational areas and homes. EPA said it is currently conducting additional analysis to identify more specifically where those watersheds are located.  

The revised risk assessment also identified some risks to workers who mix, load and apply chlorpyrifos pesticide products. “It did not identify any additional risks from pesticide exposure from food or exposure to bystanders and workers from airborne chlorpyrifos,” EPA said.

There was roughly 6 million pounds of chlorpyrifos used to control insects on a variety of crops in 2012, the latest year available from the U.S. Geological Survey, most of which was on soybeans, orchards and grapes. That was down from about 13 million pounds in 1994.

Chlorpyrifos provides effective control of grasshoppers, spider mites and other pests of soybeans.

Dow AgroSciences, one of the makers of pesticides, stands behind the safety of the labeled uses of chlorpyrifos which have been established based on four decades of experience in use, health surveillance of manufacturing workers and applicators and more than 4,000 studies and reports examining the product in terms of human health and the environment.

“Recognizing the importance of chlorpyrifos to both our customers and to U.S. agriculture, we will continue to support EPA’s ongoing registration review of chlorpyrifos with state-of-the-art data for high quality regulatory assessments,” Dow said in a statement.

EPA can deny the petition, but EPA said in its June status report that it plans to “partially grant” the petition after finding that there are risks from the chemical’s current use to human health. EPA could also propose to revoke the tolerances, which would buy them more time to work with industry to develop mitigation measures that could prevent the need to revoke the tolerances.

EPA could also fully grant the petition and revoke all uses of chlorpyrifos. However, because of its widespread use, this would likely receive pushback from pesticide and agricultural groups.

As one of the first major pesticides to undergo registration review, chlorpyrifos will set precedents for the more than 700 remaining active ingredients to follow.

For more on EPA’s chlorpyrifos registration review, visit www.chlorpyrifos.com/regulatory/chlorpyrifos-schedule.htm.

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