(Beyond Pesticides, December 2, 2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced that it is seeking public comment until December 15 on a draft stipulation in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that will suspend further litigation with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) on the claim that EPA has unreasonably delayed its response to their 2007 petition to cancel all uses and revoke all tolerances for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Under the draft Stipulation and Order, the case will be suspended, provided (1) EPA issues a preliminary human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos by June 1, 2011, and requests comment on that assessment; and (2) EPA sends NRDC and PANNA a written response to their petition by November 23, 2011. If the lawsuit is not reactivated by January 23, 2012, it will be dismissed.
In September 2007, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) filed a petition with EPA asking the agency to ban chlorpyrifos. In the nearly three years since, the agency has not responded. This spurred the groups to file a lawsuit in federal court to force EPA to decide whether or not it will cancel all remaining uses and tolerances for the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has been banned for residential use, but continues to expose farmworkers and consumers through its use in agriculture. NRDC and PANNA v. EPA was filed by the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice on July 22, 2010.
In October, Beyond Pesticides along with over 13,000 organizations and individuals -consumers, parents, health advocates, farmworkers and others from across the U.S. sent a letter to the EPA calling for a ban on the insecticide chlorpyrifos and a phase out of other organophosphate (OP) pesticides. Chlorpyrifos was phased out for residential use under a 2000 agreement between EPA and Dow Agrosciences, but continues to expose farmworkers and consumers through its use in agriculture. Beyond Pesticides calls EPA’s 2000 chlorpyrifos settlement with Dow a classic failure of the risk assessment process under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) —a failure that is repeated over and over again in agency chemical regulation decisions. Advocates have pointed to chlorpyrifos as the poster child for why risk assessment does not work to protect the public, workers and the environment, even with safer practices and products available in the marketplace. EPA’s decision in 2000 and subsequent action removed chlorpyrifos’ residential uses and retains all agricultural uses except tomatoes (allowable residues on apples and grapes were adjusted), golf course and public health mosquito spraying. The agency argued at the time of its decision that it had adequately mitigated risks through the removal of high exposure uses to children in the residential setting, but ignored the special risks to farmworker children’s exposure as well as the availability of alternative agricultural practices and products that made chlorpyrifos unnecessary and therefore its risks unreasonable. The decision at the time was hailed as a victory for the public because it eliminated high hazard exposures and showed that EPA could remove uses of a widely used chemical. Except, it did not do the job. The risk assessment process does not force a consideration of those who suffer disproportionate risk or groups of people (such as those with neurological diseases in this case who are disproportionately affected).
Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic insecticide whose use was found to exceed acceptable rates of illness, especially to children. By focusing on risk reduction strategies to come up with “acceptable” (but in Beyond Pesticides’ view unnecessary) rates of illness across the population, EPA virtually ignored the chemical’s widespread use in agriculture (with one exception that focused on dietary residues), resulting in exposure to farmworkers, farm families and others living near agricultural areas. It is also a frequent water contaminant and a long range contaminant, exposing communities and contaminating pristine areas far from where it was applied. Short term effects of exposure to chlorpyrifos include chest tightness, blurred vision, headaches, coughing and wheezing, weakness, nausea and vomiting, coma, seizures, and even death. Prenatal and early childhood exposure has been linked to low birth weights, developmental delays and other health effects. A Harvard University study links exposure to organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). EPA has literally had information on chlorpyrifos’ adverse effects for decades.
Take Action: Comments for the draft Stipulation and Order and related documents can be submitted at Regulations.gov. Comments must be identified by the docket ID number EPA-HQ-OPP-2007-1005 at and received by the Agency no later than December 15, 2010. [UPDATE: Comments have been extended and will now be accepted through Monday, December 20, 2010].