(Beyond Pesticides, August 10, 2010) Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) introduced legislation on August 6, 2010 that would strip the public of the protection provided by the Clean Water Act (CWA) from the toxic hazards of pesticides applied to or near U.S. waterways. If successful, the bill, S. 3735, would nullify regulations that require pesticide applicators apply for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits under CWA before applying pesticides on or near surface waters. Beyond Pesticides encourages its members to contact their Senators and let them know how they feel about S. 3735.
Senators Lincoln and Chambliss say that because pesticides are registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) additional regulation is unnecessary and the legislation will reduce the burden on farmers, foresters and ranchers. Environmentalists argue that CWA is more protective, and pesticides should be regulated under both statues to improve protections for human health and the environment. CWA uses a health-based standard known as maximum contamination levels to protect waterways and requires permits when chemicals are directly deposited into rivers, lakes and streams, while FIFRA uses a highly subjective risk assessment that does not consider safer alternatives.
Through the many limitations of FIFRA and its risk assessment process, many pesticides are introduced to the market with many data gaps and insufficient analysis of their potential to impact aquatic organisms, water quality and human health. For example, atrazine, the controversial and widely used herbicide, is currently linked to numerous adverse effects including the reproduction, immune and hormone system disruption of fish, other aquatic organisms and humans. Yet, atrazine continues to poison waterways. The NPDES permitting system is an important tool for monitoring and regulating pesticide discharges into waterways versus FIFRA.
The introduction of S. 3735 follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) June 2010 posting of a draft NPDES General Permit for certain pesticide use patterns, also known as the Pesticides General Permit (PGP). The development of the permit stems from a 2009 court decision in the case of the National Cotton Council et al. v. EPA, in which the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that pesticide discharges into water are pollutants and require permitting under CWA. This ruling overturned the previous Bush administration policy that exempted pesticides from regulation under CWA, and instead applied the less stringent standards of FIFRA.
In July 2010 Beyond Pesticides and others sent comments to EPA requesting improvements to the proposed PGP and CWA regulations. These suggestions include: making general improvements to address specific limitations of the proposed permit (size of annual treatment areas, monitoring requirements, opportunities for public input); encouraging EPA to consider organic alternatives when reviewing permits; and, requiring EPA to set water quality standards for all pesticides that may contaminate water.
The pesticide industry and conventional grower associations have opposed NPDES permitting requirements for the same reasons cited by Senators Lincoln and Chambliss. Both Senators have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from agricultural and forestry interests in the past five years. (See Senator Lincoln and Senator Chambliss’s supporters).
For decades our nation’s waterways have been polluted with hazardous pesticides and their degradates which impact aquatic populations of animals and plants, and decrease surface and drinking water quality. Many of these pesticides accumulate in fish and other organisms, making their way up the food chain, to eventually be consumed by the American public. To learn more about conventional fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides that are known to contaminate in drinking water and accumulate in the aquatic food chain, as well as poison farmworkers and wildlife, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience webpage.