(Beyond Pesticides, February 19, 2010) To protect humans and the environment from the drift of pesticide spray and dust the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new labeling guidelines last November and is seeking public comments. The Draft Guidance for Pesticide Registrants on Pesticide Drift Labeling is intended to provide clearer, more consistent and enforceable directions. EPA’s current pesticide label requirement, which instructs the user to avoid drift, is widely considered unenforceable and inadequate.
Pesticides drift is a major threat to those living near agricultural areas, as wind and rain can carry these chemicals miles from the application site. A National Cancer Institute study shows that pregnant women living within 9 miles of farms where pesticides are used have an increased risk of losing an unborn baby to birth defects. Another study finds that children living near agricultural areas have twice the risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
When pest management strategies rely on spray and dust pesticide application, drift is inevitable. Aerial pesticide application is of greatest concern, where an estimated 40% of pesticides used are lost to drift. Despite this inefficiency the aerial application of pesticides. especially fungicides, is actually increasing.
EPA’s labeling guidelines were introduced a month after Earth Justice and Farmworker Justice along with several other concerned groups filed a petition to set safety standards that protect children living near agricultural fields. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 requires EPA to protect infants and children from pesticide exposure. EPA has acknowledged that children are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides, and as a result phased out the residential use of several pesticides. Unfortunately EPA neglected to consider exposure resulting from drift. The petition asks EPA to reduce neurotoxic pesticide exposure by instituting buffer zones around schools, homes, and other areas where children are likely to spend time.
EPA is currently working on a Drift Reduction Technology program to encourage the agrichemical industry to develop and implement new technologies that may reduce drift. Advocates say this program alone is inadequate, since numerous practices already exist for reducing pesticide drift, are at times not implemented, because the pesticide applicator is unaware of or chooses to ignore them. Moreover, they cite transcontinental drift and community-wide drift and movement of volatilized pesticides associated with chemical-intensive farming operations.
The draft guidelines contain:
1. A general drift statement that varies according to product type. The general drift statement prohibits drift that could cause an adverse effect to people or any other non-target organism or site.
2. Examples of risk-based, product-specific drift use restrictions, along with formats for presenting these statements on product labeling. On a pesticide-by-pesticide basis, based on individual product use patterns, EPA will evaluate scientific information on risk and exposure from pesticide drift. These assessments will help the agency determine whether product-specific use restrictions are needed to protect people, wildlife, water resources, schools, or other sensitive sites from potential harm. These restrictions could include no-spray buffer zones, or requirements related to droplet or particle size, nozzle height, or weather conditions at the time of application.
3. Guidance to applicants and registrants about the process for implementing the new statements and formats on product labeling.
The agency believes the use of these statements and formats on labels will provide users with more consistent, understandable, and enforceable directions about how to protect human health and the environment from harm that might result from off-target pesticide drift.
You can take action and tell EPA you support these efforts as a first step to protect people, especially children and the environment from the dangers of pesticide drift! Click here to sign the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) petition Protect Rural Kids from Pesticide Drift. However, if you are able, send individual comments to have an even greater impact on the process. To submit comments directly to EPA at www.regulations.gov docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0825. Hurry, the deadline is March 5!