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Daily News Blog

14
Dec

EPA May Allow Highly Neurotoxic Insecticide, Aldicarb, for Citrus Despite Ban in 2010 for Same Use

EPA reported to be reconsidering use of highly toxic aldicarb on Florida citrus

(Beyond Pesticides, December 14, 2023) It has been reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is again considering allowing the use of the highly neurotoxic, carbamate insecticide aldicarb for use in Florida citrus, 13 years after the agency and the chemical’s manufacturer, Bayer Crop Science, announced that it was being banned (technically voluntarily canceled). A version of the current EPA proposal and the resource-intensive review process in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs—all being done at taxpayers’ expense—was rebuffed, first by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (April 2021), then by a U.S. Court of Appeals (June 2021). Internal EPA emails, as reported in The New Lede (November 21, 2023), expose the extent to which the agency’s science and political staff have tried to downplay aldicarb’s adverse health and environmental outcomes in order to meet the EPA’s broad, and often described as loose, risk parameters. 

This Daily News piece on aldicarb is part of an ongoing story of the politicization of science by political appointees to an agency that is charged with protecting public health and the environment. The degree to which agency scientific staff are complicit in advancing agency positions that are not supported by the scientific data continues to be an emerging story. The debacle of aldicarb, which would appear—given its history—to be an easy agency decision to reject any use, raises serious questions about dependency on an EPA that is beset by political and industry capture issues. And, this is still happening during a period in which there is an unprecedented escalation in threats of serious illness, biodiversity collapse, and the climate emergency—all intersecting in critical ways with pesticide use in agriculture and communities. (See Daily News.) Advocates argue that the now ongoing regulatory discussion of aldicarb use is a critical example of the urgent need to shift away from pesticide use to currently available, cost-effective, organic land management and agricultural practices. 

The chemical’s manufacturer is seeking aldicarb’s registration to control citrus greening, a disease transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacterial disease has been successfully managed organically in Florida, with a combination of biological controls and cultural practices. While citrus greening is causing significant disruptions for many growers, 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 in 2015 for more information about innovative, organic methods to tackle problems in citrus production. 

For those tracking the history of the Office of Pesticide Programs, this is yet another example of what advocates have called the manipulation of science by chemical manufacturers pressuring EPA to meet a predetermined outcome, which many have characterized as corruption of the regulatory process from external and internal pressure. A report by EPA’s Office of Inspector General in July 2022 on another deadly chemical, 1,3-Dichloropropane (1,3-D; brand name: Telone), concluded, “[D]epartures from established standards during the cancer assessment for 1,3-D undermine the EPA’s credibility, as well as public confidence in and the transparency of the Agency’s scientific approaches, in its efforts to prevent unreasonable impacts on human health.” Now, according to news reports, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Center for Biological Diversity, for the period leading up to EPA’s failed attempt to approve aldicarb in Florida citrus uses in 2021, identify apparent data manipulation and scientific reversals based on no new scientific information.  

According to The New Lede, in a series of internal emails, in December 2019 the agency unequivocally states that aldicarb poses unacceptable exposure risks through food, drinking water and groundwater, in addition to threats to small and medium birds, mammals, most aquatic organisms, and honey bees. Then, nearly a year later, November 2020, an EPA staffer writes about a conversation with the chemical company lobbyist, saying, “I told her the team is working very hard and there is a chance that we may have found a path forward, but that there are still a lot of moving pieces needed to fall into place.” With pressure from the chemical company and the Florida citrus industry, this became a priority for the Trump administration before leaving office. However, the trajectory of aldicarb did not change with the Biden administration and was only stopped by a state regulatory decision by then-Agriculture Commission Nikki Fried (D) and litigation filed by the Farmworker Association of Florida, Center for Biological Diversity, and Environmental Working Group.    

The chemical company behind the effort to bring back aldicarb is AgLogic Chemical, LLC. According to its website, AgLogic, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, “is the only formulator of aldicarb pesticides, which is sold as AgLogic 15GG aldicarb across the United States.” The company indicates that the product is registered for use on cotton, peanuts, dry beans, soybeans, sugar beets, and sweet potatoes in 24 states to control thrips, aphids, leafhoppers, whiteflies, mites, and nematodes. It is not registered for use in California, the upper Midwest (with the exception of Michigan), the mid-Atlantic, and all of New England.  

While news reports in 2010 proclaimed the end of aldicarb, EPA’s actions at that time actually 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 AgLogic to register in 2011 an aldicarb product for use on cotton and sweet potatoes. Now, EPA may be permitting AgLogic to do what it told Bayer over a decade ago was too risky for children’s health. 

In 2010, Beyond Pesticides reported the cancellation of aldicarb in Daily News: ”Behind closed doors this past Monday (August 16, 2010), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Bayer Crop Science reached an agreement on a set of measures to gradually reduce and ultimately ban fully the use of the insecticide aldicarb in the U.S. This decision arrives on the heels of a revised risk assessment in which EPA found that babies and children under the age of five can ingest levels of the insecticide through food and drinking water at levels that exceed limits that the agency finds safe and 25 years after 2,000 people fell ill after eating watermelons that were tainted with the pesticide. Though Beyond Pesticides applauds any decision to remove toxic chemicals from the environment, the problem with this cancellation, as with virtually all voluntary cancellations, is that the chemical can be legally used for years —eight years in this case — leaving open the opportunity for continued human and environmental exposure and harm.” In retrospect, it is now known that Bayer pulling out of the market still left the door open for others to keep this hazardous chemical on the market, another failure, advocates note, of EPA’s approach to negotiating pesticide restrictions that compromise public health and environmental protection. 

Problems with aldicarb are complex and intersect with one of the worst industrial accidents when a manufacturing facility in Bhopal, India in 1984 leaked methyl isocyanate (MIC), a precursor chemical used in the production of carbamate pesticides including aldicarb. The chemical leak and plant explosion killed an estimated 25,000 people in Bhopal and left more than 120,000 people with severe health problems throughout their lives. Continuing research released this year (June 2023) has found that fetuses in the womb during the disaster exhibited lower birth weights and remained more susceptible to respiratory problems, cognitive impairments, and other health issues later in life. Moreover, those born just after the gas leak were found to have lower educational attainment and reduced earning potential as adults. (For background on the Bhopal explosion and immediate and long-term effects, see Daily News.) 

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.  

For more background information on EPA’s earlier attempt in 2021 to allow the use of aldicarb in citrus, see Beyond Pesticides’ action on the previous EPA proposal; and for more information on aldicarb, see Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News Archives. For more information on the organic alternative to replace chemical-intensive practices that rely on hazardous options like aldicarb, see Beyond Pesticides Organic Agriculture page. 

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

Sources: The New Lede 

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