(Beyond Pesticides, July 28, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a proposed decision that residues of carbofuran, a toxic pesticide that is used on a variety of crops, will no longer be allowed on food. This effectively means that carbofuran will have to be removed from the U.S. market, benefiting consumers and farmworkers, as well as birds, which are frequently poisoned by the deadly chemical.
EPA has concluded that dietary, worker, and ecological risks are of concern for all uses of carbofuran. According to EPA’s website, all products containing carbofuran generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on humans and the environment and do not meet safety standards, and therefore are ineligible for reregistration. The agency says the notice, which is available now online, will be published in the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period on July 30, 2008.
“This is a huge victory for the environment. EPA is to be congratulated for taking such decisive action to eliminate the dangers posed by carbofuran,” said Dr. Michael Fry, American Bird Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Advocacy. “This decision is based on overwhelming scientific evidence and sends a clear signal to manufacturers that it doesn’t pay to fight the cancellation of products proven to be harmful.”
The move by EPA is the latest in a long battle to halt all uses of carbofuran (sold under the trade name Furadan). The chemical first came under fire in the 1980’s after EPA estimated that one to two million birds were killed each year by the granular formulation of carbofuran use. According to scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “There are no known conditions under which carbofuran can be used without killing migratory birds. Many of these die-off incidents followed applications of carbofuran that were made with extraordinary care.”
Then, in 1991 EPA issued what it described as a “total ban” on the use of granular carbofuran to take effect in 1994 and then extended the phase-out through the 1996 growing season. During this period Beyond Pesticides joined with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice) and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides to put legal pressure on EPA to cancel both granular and liquid formulation uses that posed hazards to endangered Bald Eagles. Despite EPA’s granular phase-out, EPA continued to accept requests for emergency exemptions as recently as 2006, illustrating the further need for a complete cancellation and revocation of tolerances.
In August of 2006, EPA announced its intention to cancel carbofuran registration due to hazards to wildlife and people. However, carbofuran manufacturer FMC Corporation is pursuing a court battle so that it can keep selling the pesticide. This is the first time in twenty years that a pesticide manufacturer has fought cancellation of a registered pesticide.
In its recent announcement, EPA stated that in addition to the revocation of food tolerances, it will continue to pursue cancellation of the product, which it announced in February 2008. By revoking all food tolerances, it has the effect of speeding its removal from the market. In addition, the decision applies to imported food, which will help eliminate the use of carbofuran in countries that export rice, coffee and bananas to the United States. The decision will go into effect following a public comment period and the issuance of a final notice by the agency.
Carbofuran is one of the most deadly pesticides to birds left on the market. It is responsible for the deaths of millions of wild birds since its introduction in 1967, including Bald and Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and migratory songbirds. In its 2005 ecological risk assessment on carbofuran, EPA stated that all legal uses of the pesticide were likely to kill wild birds.
EPA will accept public comments on the proposed tolerance revocation for 60 days. For additional information, visit EPA’s carbofuran webpage.