(Beyond Pesticides, July 29, 2008) On July 28, 2008, a coalition of farmworker, public health, and environmental groups -including Beyond Pesticides- filed a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to allow continued use of the toxic pesticide diazinon. “The lack of action on diazinon is yet another example of EPA’s failure to fully consider the risks to farmworkers, children, and the environment from pesticides,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
The lawsuit is part of the coalition’s multi-year campaign to protect children, farmworkers, and wildlife from the most dangerous pesticides and to reform EPA’s lackadaisical regulation of public and environmental health. The coalition has filed a series of lawsuits targeted at the worst poisons on the market: diazinon is near the top of that list.
“EPA’s system for protecting the public from the dangers of pesticides like diazinon is broken,” said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for Earthjustice, the public interest law firm that represents the coalition. “The agency should be protecting farmworkers and children, not the profits of pesticide manufacturers.”
Diazinon is an organophosphate pesticide that originates from nerve gases the Nazis developed during World War II. Farmworkers who are exposed to diazinon can suffer muscle spasms, confusion, dizziness, seizures, vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe exposures can cause coma and death. Exposure is also associated with damage to the liver and pancreas, diabetes, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma (a form of cancer).
“In the 21st century, we don’t need poisons like diazinon to grow our food,” said Margaret Reeves, senior scientist for Pesticide Action Network. “Americans increasingly are demanding pesticide-free food for their own health, their children’s health, their community’s health.”
After application, diazinon can become airborne. Monitoring has detected the poison in the air near schools at unsafe levels. Infants and children are especially vulnerable to diazinon, which can interfere with growth and development.
“Children and farmworkers are breathing diazinon in the air in their schools, homes, and workplaces,” said Mike Meuter, an attorney from California Rural Legal Assistance. “In failing to protect our children from diazinon exposures, EPA has failed us all.”
Diazinon is also notorious for contaminating water–it is the most common insecticide detected in surface waters and is implicated in numerous bird and fish kills. Almost 20 years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that diazinon threatened the survival of numerous endangered species.
Diazinon is used on a wide variety of crops including apples, blueberries, broccoli, cherries, cranberries, pears, spinach, and tomatoes. In 2004, EPA cancelled home uses of diazinon due to the extreme risks that it poses to children, but EPA has continued to allow farm uses of the pesticide.
The lawsuit was brought by Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice, and California Rural Legal Assistance on behalf of United Farm Workers, Pesticide Action Network North America, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), Beyond Pesticides, Teamsters Local 890, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (AFL-CIO), and Luis Garcia Lopez, an individual farmworker in California.