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Daily News Blog

27
Apr

Florida Officials Put a Stop to Trump Era Proposal to Spray Highly Toxic Insecticide in Citrus Groves

(Beyond Pesticides, April 27, 2021) The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is denying a chemical company’s application to use a highly toxic insecticide on the state’s citrus crops due to the risks the chemical poses to human health and the environment, according to a statement from FDACS released last week. At issue is aldicarb, a carbamate class insecticide that was cancelled in the U.S. over a decade ago. “While there are promising new horizons for fighting citrus greening, like recent breakthroughs at UF/IFAS on genetic resistance, aldicarb poses an unacceptable risk to human, animal, and environmental health in Florida, is one of the world’s most toxic pesticides, and is banned in more than 100 countries,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “The registrant’s application does not meet the requirements of state law, and we must therefore deny the registration of aldicarb for use in the State of Florida.”

At the end of the Trump Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took “aggressive actions” by announcing it was registering aldicarb and the antibiotic streptomycin for use against citrus greening, a disease that is damaging Florida’s citrus industry. The registration provided for a supplemental label allowing use on over 100,000 acres of citrus groves through to April 2023. In its announcement, EPA proclaims that human health risks for aldicarb “…are complete and present no risks of concern, including to young children.” The agency claimed that “ecological risks to birds mammals, aquatic organisms, and honey bees are the same as aldicarb’s existing uses and registrations.”

The statements flew in the face of the agency’s own declarations around aldicarb. Over a decade ago, Bayer, the prime registrant for aldicarb, initiated a voluntary cancellation of the chemical. At the time, EPA wrote the chemical, “may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to infants and young children.”

But while news reports proclaimed the end of aldicarb, EPA’s actions in 2010 laid the groundwork for the chemical’s return. The voluntary cancellation allowed Bayer to continue to label aldicarb for use on certain crops, including cotton, peanuts, and beans during a “phase out” until August 2018. Despite the arrangement with Bayer, the agency allowed a different company, AgLogic, to register in 2011 an aldicarb product for use on cotton and sweet potatoes. Now, EPA is permitting AgLogic to do what it told Bayer over a decade ago was too risky for children’s health by registering the product on citrus.

EPA’s approval is being challenged by a lawsuit brought by health, conservation, and farmworker organizations. The highly hazardous nature of aldicarb puts farmworkers on the front lines at greatest risk of poisoning. Acute effects from aldicarb include blurred vision, excessive salivation, stomach pain, disorientation, unconsciousness, seizures, or death. “This approval of aldicarb is just one more assault on the men and women who harvest our citrus crops in Florida, who do ‘essential’ work but who are treated as dispensable,” said Jeannie Economos, coordinator of the Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project at Farmworker Association of Florida in a press release from Center for Biological Diversity. “No one should risk their health and the health of their families in the course of doing a hard day’s labor feeding America.”

The chemical also poses significant risks to environmental health, as aldicarb has a strong propensity to contaminate groundwater. It is also systemic in nature, and thus highly toxic to pollinators that feed on exposed plants due to adulteration of pollen and nectar. EPA noted significant outstanding data on pollinator safety in its registration documents for the new aldicarb products.

Over 100 countries have banned aldicarb under the Rotterdam Convention, an international agreement on toxic chemicals that the United States has signed but not ratified. It was aldicarb production, and the leak of a precursor chemical known as methyl isocyanate, that resulted in one of the worst global environmental disasters in history in Bhopal, India. More than 25,000 individuals died and many others were permanently disabled, while the manufacturer of aldicarb at the time, Union Carbide, was let off with multi-million dollar fine.

According to advocates, aldicarb is a poster child for everything wrong with pesticide regulation in the U.S. Despite horrific manufacturing accidents, EPA allowed use to continue. This occurred despite agency declarations of its unacceptable risks, adverse effects to human health and the environment, and ostensibly cancelling the product. Despite all this, under the prior administration, EPA proposed expanding aldicarb use.

Although there was hope that the Biden administration would use Congressional Review Act to strike down the Trump era allowance, the quick move by Florida regulators to deny the permit at the state level is being met with acclaim by health and environmental advocates. Under federal pesticide law, although the federal government may approve a product for use, EPA simply sets a floor. States are permitted to add additional restrictions that best protect their unique environment and residents’ health.  

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Fried noted in her decision that the citrus infection, citrus greening, remains a difficult problem for the state’s industry, and pledged millions of dollars in research support to develop countermeasures. While citrus greening is causing significant disruptions for many growers, some organic farms are finding nontoxic and less toxic measures of addressing the problem. Watch the talk given by Benny McLean of Uncle Matt’s Orange Juice at Beyond Pesticides’ National Pesticide Forum held in Orlando, Florida from 2015, for more information about innovative, organic methods to tackle problems in citrus production.

While Florida has denied the permit, EPA for all intents and purposes still approves of this decision. Help us tell EPA it’s not too late to reverse its approval of aldicarb today. And for more information on the hazards of pesticides and their alternatives, sign up now to reserve a spot for Beyond Pesticides first ever virtual National Pesticide Forum, taking place May 25 (with a pre-conference event on May 24), and June 1, 8, and 15.  

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

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

 

 

 

 

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