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Daily News Blog

22
Jan

Will Biden Reverse Last Minute Trump EPA Approval of the Deadly Insecticide Aldicarb, Previously Cancelled?

(Beyond Pesticides, January 22, 2021) After the past four devastating years, hopes and expectations of the Biden/Harris administration abound among the environmental and public health communities. The ears and eyes of many advocates, as well as those in the agricultural community, are attuned (among myriad candidates) to the fate of the pesticide aldicarb. Although Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration of this terribly toxic insecticide was cancelled in 2010, various limited-use reapprovals since then have meant that the compound has found its way to increasing levels of use. On January 12, as another parting shot of midnight rulemaking, Trump’s EPA approved expanded uses (see below). The $64,000 question is whether the new administration will use its authority under the Congressional Review Act — which enables Congress to pass a joint resolution (then signed by the President) to overturn a new federal agency rule and prevent its reissuance in the future — to get this pesticide retired for good. Beyond Pesticides urges President Biden’s EPA to do so.

Notably, the Trump administration used the Congressional Review Act to destroy myriad environmental rules when it came into power. This permitting of expanded aldicarb uses fits the pattern. Environmental Health News notes that, as of early January, EPA was also poised to approve “use of up to 650,000 pounds of the medically important antibiotic streptomycin as a pesticide on half a million acres of the same citrus trees that may be treated with aldicarb and several other new and older pesticides. By contrast, only 14,000 pounds of streptomycin’s entire antibiotic class are used for human medicinal purposes each year.” This is in spite of the alarming and urgent issue of antibiotic resistance. Beyond Pesticides has written frequently about this, including on antibiotic use in citrus growing, and the contribution of that sector to the resistance crisis.

The compound has been used, in combination with antibiotics, to combat citrus greening disease (also known as HLB, or citrus huanglongbing disease), a potentially lethal bacterial infection that can be transmitted to citrus trees by the Asian citrus psyllid. Aldicarb is also used on a variety of other crops against aphids, spider mites, thrips, leafminers, tarnished plant bugs, and fleahoppers.

Aldicarb, a carbamate compound (see more on this, below), is noxious in a variety of ways, not least of which are its neurotoxicity, especially to infants and children, its ruinous impacts on pollinators, and its toxicity to mammals, birds, and marine, estuarine, and freshwater organisms. It is a fast-acting cholinesterase inhibitor that deactivates the enzyme acetylcholinesterase by binding to relevant receptor sites, thus disrupting normal nerve impulse transmission. Aldicarb is also an endocrine disruptor that can have negative reproductive impacts. Acute exposure to high doses of the compound can cause vision problems, nausea, improper thermal regulation, headaches, and even death. As icing on the cake, aldicarb can contaminate drinking water (as it has in Florida and other areas where its use continues), particularly in areas with very permeable soils.

Environmental Health News writes, “More than a decade ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the amount of aldicarb young children and infants could be exposed to in the U.S. was already eight times greater than the amount known to cause harm. That means the use of aldicarb had likely been poisoning young children for years.” The pesticide is banned by more than 100 countries under the regulations of the Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty established to reduce trade in the most globally hazardous chemicals. Both EPA and the World Health Organization (WHO) classify the chemical in the “highest toxicity” category.

Aldicarb, it should be noted, is one of the pesticides in the carbamate family, which has a nasty legacy. Carbamates can have significant impacts — apart from episodes of acute poisoning — on the functioning of multiple bodily systems. Exposures are linked to diabetes and other metabolic anomalies, respiratory diseases, problems with motor function, disturbed sleep patterns, and other health threats. The parent compound from which aldicarb and other carbamates are derived is methyl isocyanate — the chemical that was responsible for the devastating accident in Bhopal, India in December 1984. The Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing plant released the highly toxic gas methyl isocyanate into the air of Bhopal, killing approximately 25,000 people who had direct, acute exposure, and causing chronic illness and/or disability in hundreds of thousands of others.

Indeed, impacts have been ongoing, as reported by the Pulitzer Center: “The toxic wastes from the factory site had been piped into three huge ‘solar evaporation ponds’ and were slowly leaking into the soil and the groundwater. This poisoned groundwater is what families were pumping out every day for washing, cooking, and drinking. Now, in 2019, there are second and third generation children [of] the survivors who escaped with their lives. Children are being born with a range of disabilities not seen anywhere else in India. Cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Down’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, blindness, learning difficulties, and gross motor delay are common and many of the children, now young adults, have multiple conditions.”

In 2011, 26 years after the Bhopal disaster, Bayer CropScience finally announced that it would stop producing the toxic chemical methyl isocyanate. Behind that announcement was a 2010 negotiation by EPA, with manufacturer Bayer CropScience, to voluntarily withdraw aldicarb pursuant to EPA’s toxicity determinations on the compound. But in the intervening years, that 2011 termination of aldicarb has been eroded by various approvals from EPA for use on specific crops. Only months after Bayer’s withdrawal of its aldicarb product, AgLogic (another aldicarb manufacturer) secured approval for use on sweet potatoes, cotton, and sugar beets.

With that functional de-registration (announced in 2011, to be completely enacted by 2018), the uses immediately proscribed were those most likely to cause children’s exposures: those on potatoes and citrus. Yet in 2017, EPA approved emergency use on citrus crops despite its 2010 assertion that, “A new risk assessment conducted by EPA based on recently submitted toxicity data indicates that aldicarb no longer meets our rigorous food safety standards and may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to infants and young children.” In early January 2021, AgLogic applied for — and was granted by the Trump EPA — approval of expanded use: on oranges and grapefruit in Florida for three growing seasons, 2021–2023, and on orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime crops in Texas. These new uses will increase by more than 400,000 acres the extent of application of the toxic compound.

EPA promoted this approval of aldicarb (one week prior to the 2021 Presidential inauguration) as an action “to help protect America’s citrus industry from citrus greening and citrus canker disease.” The announcement adds: “Human health risk assessments . . . are complete and present no risks of concern, including to young children.”

Producers in citrus-growing states have been generally eager to use aldicarb, or whatever is available to protect their crops, often in spite of toxicity issues. They have lobbied hard to secure permission for use of aldicarb (and streptomycin), including meeting with the agricultural advisor to former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

One interesting exception to this “race to ruin” is the eponymous “Uncle Matt’s Organic,” a fourth-generation family business that grows citrus fruits, and sells organic citrus juices and beverages. Founded in 1999 by Matt McLean (a third-generation family member), it was sold to Dean Foods in 2017. After Dean Foods filed for bankruptcy in 2019, Mr. McLean was able to buy it back. Beyond Pesticides visited Uncle Matt’s in 2015, when the Beyond Pesticides annual National Pesticide Forum was held in Orlando.

Mr. McClean’s dad, Benny McLean, was a conventional citrus grower for 40 years, and in 2015 was production manager for the farm operation. In part through his son Matt, he became educated about organics and the role of soil health and nutrition — the presence of critical microbes and minerals — in preventing and controlling citrus diseases and pests, as well as resisting impacts of freezes. Though he was trained in the 1950s, when the agrochemical industry was exploding and having huge influence on agricultural education (i.e., “better living through chemistry”), he has become an advocate for organic practices to prevent and control the problems most other citrus growers address through chemical pesticides. His presentation to the 2015 forum can be seen here.

A retired employee of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, Karen McCormack, commented on her concern over the recent aldicarb approval: “It’s deeply disappointing to watch the [then] current EPA renege on its agreement to ban this highly toxic and persistent pesticide. After receiving numerous complaints of aldicarb leaching into groundwater and contaminating drinking water supplies in Florida and elsewhere, my colleagues worked tirelessly to reach a voluntary agreement with the aldicarb manufacturer to stop producing this hazardous pesticide. Now it appears all this work may have been in vain.”

The assessment of the aldicarb approval from Environmental Health News is this: “EPA’s careless approach to both aldicarb and streptomycin are symptoms of a severely broken pesticide regulatory system in the U.S.—one that instead of asking whether it should approve a dangerous pesticide, usually finds a way to greenlight any product proposed by the pesticide industry. It is, of course, possible that a Biden Administration will step in and prevent the broader approval of aldicarb or streptomycin from ever happening. But it’s also possible that, with dozens of other important environmental issues to address, coupled with a CDC overwhelmed with the pandemic and an American public conditioned to trust the EPA’s judgment . . . their approvals will just slide right on through. That is the path of least resistance and business as usual in the EPA’s pesticide office.”

Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Nathan Donley, PhD weighed in on EPA’s aldicarb decision: “Make no mistake, these reckless approvals will harm children and farmworkers and further hamper our ability to combat major public health crises. The Biden administration must immediately reverse these dangerous, immoral decisions by Trump appointees untethered from science and reality.”

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in December 2020, only a few weeks prior to EPA’s announcement of the aldicarb approval: “It is essential that when EPA weighs the risks and benefits of extending pesticide uses, the agency acknowledge previous harms associated with those chemicals. Harms ultimately associated with contaminant exposure should end through policy reform and the adoption of practices that eliminate toxic pesticide use. With far too many diseases in the U.S. associated with pesticide exposure, prohibiting the use of pesticides with known toxic effects is crucial for safeguarding public health.” Beyond Pesticides advocates for a precautionary approach to pest management in land management and agriculture, with a transition to organic methods. Beyond Pesticides asks the public to contact elected U.S. senators and representatives, and President Biden, to insist on a precautionary and protective direction for EPA’s regulation of pesticides, and on robust support for regenerative and organic agriculture. 

Source: https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/epa-takes-aggressive-actions-against-citrus-greening-while-maintaining-public-health-and and https://www.freshfruitportal.com/news/2021/01/15/epa-approves-aldicarb-to-help-in-florida-citruss-hlb-fight/

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

 

 

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