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Daily News Blog

13
Aug

Court Ordered Deadline Mandates EPA Action on Toxic Insecticide Dursban

(Beyond Pesticides, August 13, 2015) On Monday, a federal appeals court judge mandated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) respond to a petition filed nearly nine years ago that seeks  to force the agency to restrict  the dangerous insecticide  chlorpyrifos (an organophosphate also known as Dursban). U.S. Court of Appeals Judge for the Ninth Circuit, M. Margaret McKeown,  delivered her opinion on August 10, stating that federal agencies should never practice the “venerable tradition” of putting off statutory requirements  when it comes to human health. The court issued the opinion and order in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and gives EPA until October 31 to finally respond to the petition requesting to ban chlorpyrifos. EPA took a tentative step towards further regulating chlorpyrifos in a July 2015 announcement to ban remaining agricultural uses by April 2016 date. Unhappy with the uncertainty that EPA delivered, the court felt that a mandated deadline would expedite the process.

EPA-buildingOn June 8, 2000, EPA administrator Carol Browner announced a voluntary agreement between the agency and industry leaders, including Dow AgroSciences, to ban all home and garden uses of Dursban, which was at the time the most widely used household pesticide in the U.S. This agreement, however, did not include agricultural, golf course, or public mosquito spraying uses. It continues to be heavily used today with an estimated 5 million pounds applied in the U.S. annually, releasing its toxins onto our food and into the lives of farmworkers and their children. In 2007, NRDC and PAN petitioned EPA to revoke all tolerances and cancel registrations for chlorpyrifos. The petition outlines the scientific evidence and public comments that EPA had ignored since they released their cumulative risk assessment for all organophosphates. In 2010, over 13,000 organizations and individuals submitted a letter to EPA calling for a ban. That same year, NRDC, PAN, and Earthjustice appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2012, EPA imposed “no-spray” buffer zones around public spaces, including recreational areas, schools, and homes to reduce bystander exposure risks. In spite of these restrictions, chlorpyrifos still poses risks to human and environmental health. Two months ago, NRDC and PANNA once again petitioned the court of appeals, seeking injunctive relief in the form of a 60-day mandated deadline for EPA. This week, the court finally gave a worthy response: a writ of mandamus, which requires EPA to meet the October 31 deadline and establish a timeline for finalizing the proposed rule if they decide on a ban.

“EPA can’t kick the can down the road any longer. EPA already acknowledges threats of chlorpyrifos to farmworkers and rural families, yet the agency has failed to act. [This] decision should result in meaningful protections for communities from this brain-harming pesticide,” said Margaret Reeves, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America.

Environmental groups want  EPA action to respond to  the scientific evidence on  the dangers of the organophosphate. As groups have pointed out, the failure to ban chlorpyrifos directly violates  provisions  in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) due to the undeniable evidence identified  by EPA earlier this year. In January, the agency published a Revised Human Health Risk Assessment which found risks to some small watersheds used for drinking water, wildlife, and farmworkers who mix, load, and apply chlorpyrifos. Ignoring this and other evidence directly violates FIFRA and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), something that the 2007 petition points out. Judge McKeown: “EPA’s unreasonable delay in responding to the administrative petition has already been the subject of three non-frivolous lawsuits. There should not be a fourth.”

Chlorpyrifos  is highly  neurotoxic. It is a cholinesterase inhibitor, which means that it can bind irreversibly to acetylcholine esterase (AchE), an essential enzyme for normal nerve impulse transmission, inactivating the enzyme. Studies have documented that exposure to even low levels of organophosphates like chlorpyrifos during pregnancy can impair learning, change brain function, and alter thyroid levels of offspring into adulthood. The evidence of the neurotoxic dangers associated with chlorpyrifos’ exposure is extensive and consistent. See the Pesticide Induced-Disease Database (PIDD) for more information.

Chlorpyrifos leads a list of numerous toxic chemicals that are central to chemical-intensive agricultural practices that threaten  health and the environment effects. While a ban is  certainly important  as current inaction  reflects a breakdown in the  regulatory process, ultimately the widespread adoption of organic management is necessary to protect consumers and the environment in the long-term. Beyond Pesticides has long sought a broad-scale marketplace transition to organic practices that disallows the use of toxic synthetic pesticides by law and encourages a systems-based approach that is protective of health and the environment. Even at its worst, this approach never allows the use of highly toxic synthetic pesticides, let alone organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos, and advances  a viable, scalable path forward for growing food.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Earth Justice Press Release, Judge McKeown’s Opinion

 

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One Response to “Court Ordered Deadline Mandates EPA Action on Toxic Insecticide Dursban”

  1. 1
    Rachel Longstaff Says:

    NCAMP was fighting Dursban 25 years ago.
    Let’s hope the EPA acts “promptly,” if they can just hold off the big chemical lobby.
    Good luck!

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