(Beyond Pesticides, April 12, 2012) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Monday that it has rejected a petition to ban the widely used herbicide 2,4-D, dismissing epidemiologic studies that link the pesticide to cancer, endocrine disruption, and other human health effects. In its announcement, EPA also responded to comments that Beyond Pesticides submitted in 2009, dismissing two studies that evaluate the relationship between the use of the chemical on lawns and the incidence of malignant lymphoma in pets. The petition was initially filed in 2008 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
2,4-D has been used in the U.S. since the 1940s, and as such is one of the oldest registered herbicides in the country. It made up roughly half of the herbicide known as Agent Orange, which was used to defoliate forests and croplands in the Vietnam War. According to EPA, 2,4-D is currently found in approximately 600 products registered for agricultural, residential, industrial, and aquatic uses.
The use of 2,4-D is expected to increase significantly in the next few years with the recent announcement that Dow AgroSciences, the main manufacturer of the chemical, is seeking federal approval to sell corn seeds that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. [Listen to a radio interview on this subject by Beyond Pesticides’ Executive Director Jay Feldman.]
2,4-D is a chlorophenoxy herbicide, and scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Research by EPA suggests that babies born in counties with high rates of chlorophenoxy herbicides application to farm fields are significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits. These birth defects were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates. The results also show a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.
Unfortunately, the agency’s ruling states that there is not enough data to conclude that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between exposure to 2,4-D and health effects. EPA reviewers said that though some studies have shown higher risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among farmers, it was too difficult to point to 2,4-D as the cause because of the farmer’s exposure to so many other chemicals. Instead, according to the New York Times, the agency relies heavily on an industry funded study by 2,4-D manufacturers and conducted by Dow. The study found that when 2,4-D was put into food for rats, the rats had no reproductive problems, or problems in their offspring.
Gina Solomon, MD, MPH, the co-author of the NRDC petition to ban 2,4-D, responded to EPA’s decision in a blog post:
“Essentially, the Agency is saying that in the absence of animal studies showing a link to cancer, EPA will continue to ignore the multiple human studies which repeatedly show increased rates of this particular cancer in farmers and agricultural workers exposed to the chemical. Accordingly, the EPA stands by its classification of 2,4-D as “unclassifiable as to human carcinogenicity.” This remains unconvincing to many, and it is alarming that a pesticide that has been on the market for more than 60 years is still “unclassifiable.”
TAKE ACTION: There is a 60-day period for filing objections to this conclusion that begins when it is published in the Federal Register. Documents are available at www.regulations.gov under docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2008-0877.
Send comments on the proposed approval of Dow’s 2,4-D tolerant corn until APRIL 27, 2012. Submit comments at www.regulations.gov. You only need to fill out fields that have an asterisk (*) beside it.
Additionally, an online petition by Center for Food Safety can be signed here; The Cornucopia Institute also has a letter opposing Dow’s 2,4-D corn variety, which will be sent to President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, which can be signed here.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.