EPA proposes revoking chlorpyrifos food tolerances

Widely used pesticide comes under quick action due to recent court action.

The Environmental Protection Agency opened a public comment period on an Agency proposal to revoke all food residue tolerances for the insecticide chlorpyrifos.

EPA said based on its current analysis, “there do not appear to be risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos from food, but, when that exposure is combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, EPA cannot conclude that the risk from the potential aggregate exposure meets the FFDCA safety standard,” the agency said.

In June 2015 EPA indicated its intention to issue a proposed rule revoking tolerances by April 15, 2016, to address previously identified drinking water concerns and in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). The agency said this schedule would have allowed time for EPA to complete its additional analysis, taking into consideration the public comments received on its December 2014 human health risk assessment.

On August 10, 2015, the 9th Circuit rejected EPA’s timeline, instead ordering EPA by October 31, 2015, to either deny the petition, issue a proposed revocation, or issue a final revocation rule. EPA is not denying the petition because they said they were unable to make a safety finding based on the science as it stands currently.

“EPA is not issuing a final revocation rule because we have not proposed it and have not completed our refined drinking water assessment, leaving certain science issues unresolved,” EPA said in a statement. “Therefore, as we are informing the court, we have proposed to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances based on the science as it stands. Issuing a proposed revocation provides an opportunity for public input prior to any final decision.”

Within the next few months, the public will have an opportunity to comment on both a completed hazard assessment and the completed drinking water analysis prior to EPA issuing a final rule. EPA is currently performing additional analysis related to its hazard assessment in order to make certain that any final decision protects infants and children. Once completed, if warranted, it would inform a final tolerance revocation rule.

As written, EPA’s proposal would not affect the 2016 growing season.

Industry reaction

CropLife America (CLA) said chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely-tested products across the world and is an “invaluable tool for growers on a diverse array of crops.” 

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 the pesticide, said in a statement that they disagree with EPA’s proposal and remain confident that all U.S. tolerance issues related to the continued use “can be readily resolved with a more refined analysis of data.”

Dow added EPA has said that it will not decide whether or not to act on its proposal to revoke tolerances until it has received and responded to input from interested stakeholders, including growers who rely on chlorpyrifos-containing products to protect their crops and livelihood from destructive insect pests.

Mark Watte, a California grower who farms 600 acres of cotton among other crops, shared that chlorpyrifos is the best choice, and under some conditions, the only choice for truly effective control of bugs. He said he’s been able to see effective use of it for aphid infestations and white fly.

“Last year, we had a huge aphid infestation, and chlorpyrifos was an important part of the solution. Aphids excrete sugars that make cotton fibers sticky so that when the lint goes to the yarn mill it gums up the machines. Buyers don’t want sticky cotton. Some might accept it, at a significant discount,” Watte said. Without chlorpyrifos, I would be using less effective materials and risking having to spray more often. I’ve used chlorpyrifos for years, and I need it in my toolbox.”

Dennis McFarlin, Californian grape grower, added, “Chlorpyrifos is one of the few materials left to us that we rely on for effective control. We know chlorpyrifos is restricted and we treat it with respect. If we didn't have chlorpyrifos , we'd be using more frequent sprays of less-effective material, and more fuel and other farm inputs, none of which would be good for the environment."

“It is unfortunate that court-mandated deadlines helped result in the Agency’s proposal to revoke food residue tolerances for a beneficial and wide-reaching crop protection product,” commented Jay Vroom, president and chief executive officer of CropLife America. “Unnecessary litigation-driven deadlines risk arbitrarily taking away valuable tools from all farmers, and this is just such a scenario. This is a drastic and unnecessary step that is caused by wasteful, agenda-driven litigation. We are confident that due legal and scientific process will make this proposed action unnecessary.”

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