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Daily News Blog

27
Sep

Inspector General Challenges EPA’s Allowance of Off-Label “Emergency” Pesticide Use

(Beyond Pesticides, September 27, 2018) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report finding the agency’s practice of routinely granting “emergency” approval through its Section 18 program for pesticide use does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.

The inspector general recommends EPA “develop and implement applicable outcome-based performance measures to demonstrate the human health and environmental effects of the EPA’s emergency exemption decisions.” EPA disagreed with the recommendation, leaving the issue of chronic overuse of the emergency exemptions unresolved. Under Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the EPA has the authority to approve the temporary emergency use of unapproved pesticides if the agency determines the pesticide is needed to prevent the spread of an unexpected outbreak of crop-damaging insects, for example. But this provision has been widely abused.

OIG’s report finds “significant deficiencies in the OPP’s online database management, in its draft Section 18 emergency exemption standard operating procedure and application checklist, and in its reports to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.” Specifically, the report notes EPA, “does not have outcome measures in place to determine how well the emergency exemption process maintains human health and environmental safeguards. The program office also does not have comprehensive internal controls to manage the emergency exemption data it collects,” and that “OPP does not consistently communicate emergency exemption information with its stakeholders.”

Beyond Pesticides has firmly opposed the current use of the Section 18. Through the Section 18, or emergency exemption program, EPA allows the use of pesticides that are not registered for a particular crop, or in some cases not registered for use at all, but making progress toward registration. EPA can set tolerances for affected crops that are time-limited, usually for the season in which they are allowed.

The Section 18 emergency exemption loophole has been used in the past to skirt pesticide regulations meant to ensure health and safety and has resulted in the widespread application of inadequately reviewed, and often unnecessary hazardous substances. In some cases, exemptions have been granted each season, challenging the concept that there is an urgent, non-routine situation as “emergency” is defined under Section 18.

Beyond Pesticides has found a growing number of Section 18 requests from states over the last ten years for emergency exemptions and the use of pesticides to control various resistant weed and insect pests that either do not meet the criteria for “non-routine” or “emergency” conditions set forth in FIFRA, or whose pesticide use would pose elevated risks to the environment. Additionally, there are a number of requests and subsequent, almost annual, issuance of Section 18 exemptions for pesticides that essentially replaces one Section 18 exemption with another. Continuous exemptions for the same or similar pest problem over a number of years indicates that the case is not “non-routine” and undermines the intent of the program, which is to provide temporary relief from unforeseen problems.

A recent Center for Biological Diversity report finds as of 2017, EPA had granted 78 “emergency” exemptions for sulfoxaflor, a pesticide that the EPA itself concluded is highly toxic to bees. EPA has used emergency exemptions to allow sulfoxaflor use on more than 17.5 million acres of U.S. cotton and sorghum farms – uses sites that are not currently registered. Other exemptions are given to states to combat herbicide-resistant weeds, which have proliferated across the U.S. over the last decade and should not be considered an “emergency” situation.

Reoccurring problems like weed resistance to herbicides should be a wake-up call for farmers and EPA to reevaluate and implement alternative biological and cultural management practices for the long-term prevention of diseases and end the reliance on the “chemical fix” that will exacerbate the problem when pest resistance to the chemical inevitably occurs.

Integrated pest management strategies, organic practices, and solutions that are not chemical-intensive are working alternatives that would be the most appropriate and long-term solution for battling resistant weeds and pests outbreaks that Section 18 requests aim to solve. For further information on these strategies, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic webpage.

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

Source: Center for Biological Diversity Press Release; OIG Report

 

 

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