(Beyond Pesticides, October 13, 2017) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can better reduce risks from illegal pesticides by effectively identifying imports for inspection and sampling. This, according to a report from EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released last month. The report finds low rates of inspection and sampling across the U.S. to stop the importation of pesticide products that violate federal laws, and recommends increased training and coordination between U.S. Customs and Border Protection to deter the import of harmful pesticides.
EPA’s OIG conducted the report to determine whether EPA is effectively identifying imported pesticides for inspection and sampling to deter imports of harmful pesticides and protect human health and the environment. The report, published September 28, 2017, finds there is limited assurance that imports in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which regulates the use and importation of pesticide products, will be identified or prevented entry into the U.S. According to the report, EPA is at risk of not effectively identifying imported pesticides for inspection and sampling. For instance, EPA regions did not meet the voluntary frequency goal of inspecting two percent of all shipments of imported pesticides nationwide in fiscal years 2015 and 2016. In fiscal year 2016, EPA’s ten regions conducted only 73 inspections of 46,280 pesticide shipments —a rate of only 0.002 percent. In two EPA regions, inspections were more likely to be conducted close to the regional office rather than where the greatest number of pesticides entered the region. In the last five years, seven EPA regions reviewed had sampled and tested the integrity of only seven pesticides out of approximately 145,000 shipments of imported pesticides. One of the main reasons leading to such low rates of inspections is that regional resources available to carry out inspections are not considered part of strategic planning, and regional participation in achieving the agency’s inspection frequency goal is voluntary.
OIG made four recommendations that EPA (1) establish national compliance monitoring goals based on regional resources; (2) implement controls to monitor and communicate progress on regional goals; (3) guide and train EPA regions to use the Automated Commercial Enterprise system for regional targeting of importers, manufacturers and pesticide products; (4) and direct each EPA region to develop guidance or protocols for coordinating with local U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices regarding illegally imported pesticides. EPA concurred with OIG’s recommendation to develop protocols for coordinating with local U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices. The remaining three recommendations are unresolved.
Currently, EPA has no guidance or training available on how its regional offices can use information from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automated Commercial Enterprise system to target future inspections or develop their own targeting strategies. This system allows for automatic processing of import notices that could allow EPA regions more time for targeting and inspections. According to OIG, guidance or protocols for how EPA regions can coordinate with U.S. Customs and Border Protection will help to ensure that EPA is notified of any potentially illegal pesticides not found during the agency’s review of import notices.
Illegal imports of pesticides can present significant human health and environmental risks, and have been linked to poisonings of children and pets. Illegal imports include high-hazard pesticides that can be counterfeit, produced at unregistered establishments, or produced using unauthorized ingredients. EPA is tasked with enforcing the requirements under FIFRA that governs the distribution, sale and use of pesticides. EPA can take enforcement actions to address the (a) distribution or sale of unregistered pesticides, (b) registered pesticides whose composition differs from that submitted at registration, and (c) registered pesticides that are misbranded or adulterated. When a product is found to be in violation of FIFRA requirements, several actions can be taken, including denying entry into the U.S., issuing penalties for illegal distribution, or issuing a Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order (SSURO) prohibiting the sale, use or removal of the product.
One well-documented illegal pesticide product is the ‘Insecticide Chalk,’ an illegal insecticide manufactured to resemble blackboard chalk sold under various trade names—including Pretty Baby Chalk, Chinese Chalk, and Miraculous Insecticide Chalk. These may be sold in a neighborhood stores or on the street for about $1 a box. These products are imported illegally from China, and often bear a label in both English and Chinese. Sometimes the manufacturer claims that the chalk is “harmless to human beings and animals” and “safe to use.” Children can easily mistake insecticide chalk for blackboard chalk or put it in their mouths. EPA has been public about the illegal entry of this product for several years.
Unfortunately, with inspection guidelines being voluntary and set at only two percent —which is still not being met— there will continue to be pesticide products being sold illegally to unsuspecting U.S. customers. These pesticides may contain ingredients banned in the U.S. or applied in ways that can pose risks to human health. To ensure you are not buying an illegal pesticide product check the label for an EPA registration number or visit the website information provided. If you are still unsure, contact Beyond Pesticides for assistance.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Office of the Inspector General