(Beyond Pesticides, July 8, 2015) Last week, after decades of review and known toxic hazards, especially to children, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accepted a proposed cancellation for a number of indoor uses (including food establishments) and tolerances of propoxur, a carbamate insecticide known for its toxic effects to children. EPA has received a Section 6(f) request under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) from the registrant of propoxur to voluntarily cancel certain uses of the carbamate insecticide. The request from the manufacturer, Wellmark International, requests cancellation of indoor aerosol, spray and liquid formulations of propoxur, indoor crack and crevice use, and all use in food-handling establishments. EPA previously agreed to an April 1, 2016 phase out of propoxur in pet collars, but has continued to leave open these other avenues of exposure. The agency will begin accepting comments on its proposal once it has been published in the Federal Register, which is expected to occur within 10 days of the prepublication signature date.
It should be noted that EPA engages in lengthy negotiations with pesticide manufacturers, as is the case with propoxur (see recent announcement on chlorpyrifos), rather than pursuing rigorous regulatory standards through its cancellation or imminent hazard authority. The agency has argued that adversarial proceedings are costly and time consuming, yet the long history of propoxur’s cancellation, including the April 1, 2016 phase-out of pet collars, puts the public in harm’s way for lengthy periods. In the case of propoxur, EPA called into question its safety before 1988, when the chemical was the subject of a preliminary Special Review cancellation “because of concerns about the potential carcinogenic risks to pest control operators and the general public during indoor and outdoor applications of propoxur and risks to occupants of buildings treated with propoxur products,” a position on which the agency reversed itself. (See Propoxur Reregistration Eligibility Decision, August, 1997, pp4-5.) Manufacturers are enticed into voluntary cancellations when EPA finally threatens action or litigation looms, seeking to avoid a determination or finding by the agency on elevated risk factors that could increase the registrant’s (pesticide manufacturer’s) liability and reduce its export market.
In March 2014, EPA announced that it had reached an agreement with two major pet product companies to cancel flea and tick pet collars containing the insecticide. The agreement was reached between the agency and the two companies as a result of EPA’s risk assessment in fall 2013, which found unacceptable risks to children from exposure to pet collars containing propoxur. Unfortunately, as noted, the agreement’s long phase-out period continues to allow these dangerous products to be sold until April 1, 2016.
Propoxur was first registered in the U.S. in 1963 for the control of household pests. It has since been implicated as a known carcinogen by the state of California, and has been found to impact reproduction. It can also cause kidney and liver damage, is neurotoxic, and can impact birds, fish and bees. Children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure, partly due to the fact that they have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact than adults. They also take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems often make them more sensitive to toxic exposure. The National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, have voiced concerns about the dangers that pesticides pose to children. The body of evidence in the scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels.
A 2011 study published in the journal NeuroToxicology found a positive link between exposure to the pesticide propoxur and poor motor development in infants. By the age of two, children exposed to propoxur in the womb experience poor development of motor skills, according to a test of mental development. A 2009 study concluded that exposures during pregnancy and childhood to insecticides that target the nervous system, such as organophosphates (OPs) and carbamates, are associated with childhood brain tumors.
Fortunately, these chemical treatments, which are often more harmful than the insects themselves, are not actually necessary. These pests can be effectively controlled with non-toxic approaches. For bedbugs, a least-toxic approach, which includes methods such as vacuuming, steaming, and exposing the bugs to high heat, can help to manage an infestation without the dangerous side effects. This approach, as well as taking steps such as sealing cracks and crevices, reducing clutter and encasing mattresses, can also help to prevent an infestation in the first place. For more information on treating bedbugs, read our factsheet, “Got Bed Bugs? Don’t Panic” on our Bed Bug Program Page. For fleas and ticks, it is important to monitor pets carefully, as they may be transporting the insects inside. Bathe pets and wash their bedding regularly. The least-toxic methods described above for bedbugs, such as vacuuming and reducing clutter, as well as exclusion practices (caulking, door sweeps), moisture control, and sanitation, are also important to employ for flea, tick, an other insect management.
Beyond Pesticides urges you to submit your comments supporting the cancellation of propoxur, identified by docket identification (ID) number EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0296, at http://www.regulations.gov. The comment period will be open for 30 days, following the official publication in the federal register on or around July 13, 2015.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.