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Alert: Pesticide Incident Reporting
Dateline: March 21, 2001

ITEM: GAO Testimony Cites Need for State Pesticide Illness Monitoring Systems
FACT: Only nine states currently have laws that require the collection of this pesticide illness data.
ACTION NEEDED: State adoption of pesticide incident monitoring programs.

Beyond Pesticides is alerting members of medical groups, environmental organizations as well as concerned citizens about the need to campaign for pesticide-monitoring legislation in their own states. Pesticide-induced illness is a serious public health issue given the widespread use of these chemicals. In general, policy makers are unable to adequately evaluate the health impact of pesticide exposure because pesticide poisoning is not a reportable medical or health event. Nine states (click on the state name for more information), Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington, have addressed this issue through development of programs that require the collection of pesticide illness reports. New GAO testimony before the Maryland legislature on March 13 supports the need for pesticide illness reporting and education legislation in every state. John Stephenson, Director of the Natural Resources and Environment team of GAO, and Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides, testified in support of Maryland’s proposed pesticide illness reporting and education legislation, Senate Bill 654. Click here to see the testimony of John Stephenson and Jay Feldman.

Meanwhile, the federal government has not been collecting this kind of information and is not expected to take on this function. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did have a Pesticide Incident Monitoring System for over a decade until 1981 when it was closed down within the first year of the Reagan Administration. Since that time, the federal government has been relying on states to conduct these programs to protect their residents and, in some cases, to assist in regulatory deliberations on pesticide safety. In a 1995 report, Pesticides: EPA’s Efforts to Collect and Take Action on Exposure Incident Data, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) said, “According to EPA staff, data on incidents of exposure played a significant part in 19 instances in which the agency took measures to protect the public health between 1989 and 1994.” Click here for a copy of Pesticides: EPA’s Efforts to Collect and Take Action on Exposure Incident Data.

In a 2000 report, Pesticides: Improvements Needed to Ensure the Safety of Farmworkers and Their Children, GAO clearly spells out the deficiencies in the federal data collection system and concludes, “Officials from these agencies that collect data on pesticide illnesses confirmed that a lack of comprehensive national data exists . . . for the general population. . .” The report then explains the deficiencies associated with the range of databases that EPA uses to indicate the extent of acute pesticide incidents and illnesses. It cites four databases, including the American Association of Poison Control Centers, Section 6(a)(2) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network, and the California Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program. Click here for a copy of Pesticides: Improvements Needed to Ensure the Safety of Farmworkers and Their Children.

The Maryland State Legislature currently is considering legislation that would establish a pesticide illness reporting and education program through the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Click here for more information about Maryland’s proposed Pesticide Illness Reporting and Education bill.