(Beyond Pesticides, January 17, 2008) Newly elected members of the Council of the District of Columbia brought the issue of reforming pesticide law to the Council yesterday in a hearing on a right-to-know bill, Pesticide Consumer Notification Amendment Act of 2007, Bill 17-493. The bill would be the first time pesticide law in the District has been amended since the law was passed in 1977. Pest control industry representatives did not oppose the bill, but urged the sponsors to shift the burden of notification of apartment building residents to the landlord.
While the bill is a notification amendment that requires licensed pesticide applicators to provide hazard information to potential customers and those in multi-unit buildings who would be exposed, the bill’s sponsors throughout the hearing cited the need for overhauling the law to stop the use of hazardous pesticides in the District. The hearing was held in the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs by Chairperson Mary Cheh. When told that it was working on these issues by the Department of the Environment, which oversees pesticide regulation and enforcement, the Council members said that was not good enough, and seemed unconvinced by the argument that pesticide restrictions are best set by the regulatory agency, not the legislative branch.
Beyond Pesticides’ executive director, Jay Feldman, testified at the hearing in support of expanding the bill to ensure that people are fully warned before purchasing pest control services or pesticide products. Mr. Feldman noted that the bill’s requirement to provide consumers and residents with the pesticide label, Material Safety Data Sheet, and product manufacturer information needed to be supplemented with a clear warning statement, which was proposed in the testimony.
The testimony covers three areas: (1) the failures of the current system of disclosure of toxic pesticide hazards to consumers and those exposed to pesticides; (2) the limitations of the regulatory system that registers pesticides and makes these chemicals available in commerce; and, (3) the best way to ensure that people are duly warned and provided with complete information to make an informed choice to protect their health and the health of their families.
The testimony provided a history on consumers being misled by pesticide and pest control industry practices, which was documented by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 1986 and again in 1990. The testimony says,
To give historical perspective to this problem and illustrate that this legislation is indeed on the right track, we can go back to 1986 when the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report entitled, Nonagricultural Pesticides: Risks and Regulation, and found that, “The general public receives limited and misleading information on pesticide hazards.” Four years later, in March 1990, GAO published another report on the subject, Lawn Care Pesticides: Risks Remain Uncertain While Prohibited Safety Claims Continue, and found “the same situation.” Today, 18 years later, commercial pesticide applicators have become more sophisticated and we now call it “greenwashing.” However, you can be sure that customers continue to receive the same message, the ones that GAO documented, characterizing toxic pesticides as “completely safe for humans.”
The testimony explains the deficiencies with the federal regulatory process at EPA, and the fact that the states and the District of Columbia rely on the agency’s decisions and pesticide productive labels that are not protective of health and the environment. Mr. Feldman said, “The difficulty, from a public health perspective, is that the inadequate regulatory system, allowing widespread use of poisons that are more often than not unnecessary, results in a pesticide product label that is also inadequate, or fails in restricting use or conveying hazard information.”
The hearing addressed a number of issues outside the scope of the bill, particularly the issue of inadequately trained commercial applicators who are “working under the supervision” of certified applicators off-site. The Council members were shocked to learn that commercial applicators, not fully trained and tested, were allowed under the law to go into homes and apply poisons. As the hearing went on for three hours, the Council members grew more and more outraged and skeptical of the statutory and regulatory apparatus in place to protect people and the environment.
TAKE ACTION: To submit written testimony in support of pesticide right-to-know and the restriction of pesticides in the nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C., email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or fax comments to Ms. Cynthia Brock-Smith, Secretary to the Council, Room 5 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004, 202-347-3070. At this point, the record will close at the end of the business day on Friday, January 18.