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EPA Strikes Deal To Cancel Bird-Killing Pesticide, Allows Use to Continue for Two More Seasons
(April 21, 2003)
On April 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an announcement that the maker of the controversial organophosphate pesticide fenthion has requested a voluntarily cancellation of the product as of July 1, 2004. Under the agreement struck with EPA, the manufacturer, Bayer Environmental Science, will be allowed to sell the product until November 30, 2004. Produced under the brand name Baytex, Bayer will issue new label instructions for the next two seasons which EPA says will mitigate risks for avian exposure and the threat to endangered species. The pesticide is currently registered primarily for adult mosquito control in two Florida counties. The phase-out agreement comes after much-publicized incidents of massive bird kills on Marcos Island off the Florida coast and the subsequent investigations and lawsuits. EPA states, "Fenthion is extremely hazardous, especially to birds and aquatic invertebrates."

The massive bird deaths were documented in 1998 and sparked a lawsuit under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As reported in the October 29, 2002 edition of the Daily News, the lawsuit, which was filed in federal district court by Defenders of Wildlife, American Bird Conservancy, and Florida Wildlife Federation, charges EPA with violating ESA and MBTA in its registration of the pesticide fenthion. Fenthion has been documented to cause severe ecological impacts and is exceptionally toxic to birds. The pesticide is also under investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Attorney General.

Marcos Island has long been a haven for migratory and endangered birds and those that go there to watch the birds in their majesty.

Environmentalists hail the measure as long overdue, but question the continuing pattern of EPA deals that allow known deadly or hazardous chemicals to remain on the market for extended periods during a phase-out, with no warning to the public. According to EPA, Bayer will take back all unopened fenthion products returned to the company by December 31, 2004.

The cancellation comes as no surprise to some who have been following the pesticide's reregistration process. "This chemical has very few remaining uses and a very narrow market," said Beyond Pesticides Project Coordinator, Jessica Lunsford. Manufacturers often cite economic reasons for cancelling highly toxic and controversial pesticides that have been identified by EPA as targets for cancellation.

EPA will soon publish a Federal Register notice inviting public comment on the proposed cancellation of all uses of fenthion. Environmentalists still worry that another manufacturer may decide to undertake the required testing and attempt to reregister fenthion.