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Daily News Blog

15
Apr

EPA Issues Warning to Farmworkers Instead of Regulating a Highly Hazardous Weed Killer as an Imminent Threat

EPA shared a warning to farmworkers that they are being exposed to the highly hazardous weed killer, dacthal, without offering protections.

(Beyond Pesticides, April 15, 2024) At first, some thought this was an April Fools’ announcement by pranksters like the YES men. Put out an announcement pretending to be the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) with a warning to farmworkers that they are being exposed to a highly hazardous weed killer, dacthal (dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate or DCPA), offering no protection. The announcement says, “EPA is warning people of the significant health risks to pregnant individuals and their developing babies exposed to DCPA” and notes that the agency will be “pursuing” further action at some unspecified time in the future. But, this was no joke, especially for farmworkers. The agency somehow believed it was fulfilling its statutory duty to protect farmworkers and their families with a warning that a chemical they may be exposed in their workplace and possibly their homes and schools is harming them and, for those pregnant, destroying the health of their fetus. “In light of the workplace reality for farmworkers, the lack of labor protections, and the documented deficiencies in the existing worker protection standards, it is difficult to conceive of how EPA officials think this warning is protective in any way. And in light of what agency officials know, or should know, about the reality for farmworkers in their agricultural workplace, why are they not exercising the imminent hazard authority to suspend the chemical that Congress gave them,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. Mr. Feldman continued, “It’s not even clear in EPA’s press release how this warning will reach farmworkers.”

Beyond label warnings, EPA does not typically issue public warnings, as it has done in this case, with the determination that the agency’s mitigation measures (requirements for personal protective equipment) under a product’s existing registration is not protective of farmworkers, and specifically pregnant farmworkers and their fetuses. In its release and announcement on its website, the agency says “EPA is taking this rare step of warning farmworkers about these concerns while it works on actions to protect workers because of the significant risks the agency has identified.”

Quoting from the agency, “In May 2023, EPA released its assessment on the risks of occupational and residential exposure to products containing DCPA, after the agency reviewed data that it compelled AMVAC [the product’s manufacturer] to submit, which had been overdue for almost 10 years. The assessment found concerning evidence of health risks associated with DCPA use and application, even when personal protective equipment and engineering controls are used. The most serious risks extend to the developing babies of pregnant individuals. EPA estimates that some pregnant individuals handling DCPA products could be subjected to exposures from four to 20 times greater than what current DCPA product label use instructions indicate is considered safe. EPA is concerned that pregnant women exposed to DCPA could experience changes to fetal thyroid hormone levels, and these changes are generally linked to low birth weight, impaired brain development, decreased IQ, and impaired motor skills later in life.” 

The delays associated with this one pesticide exemplifies concerns that advocates have raised as endemic to EPA’s pesticide registration process, resulting in serious harm that is not adequately prevented or managed by the agency. Beyond Pesticides has pointed to this historical and ongoing failure as one of the many reasons to shift to organic management practices that, under the Organic Foods Production Act, do not allow the use of hazardous substances like dacthal.

Tell EPA to immediately suspend the registration of dacthal, while Congress must urge the agency to take immediate action.

Although it suggests several measures that it might take—including an immediate suspension order—EPA says it is “considering these tools as it moves forward with the DCPA registration review, but in light of the serious risks posed by DCPA, chose to warn the public of them at this time as it continues its work.” EPA’s press release gives an astonishing history of the agency’s failure to act, acknowledging that DCPA use on turf was voluntarily canceled in December 2023, while “unacceptable risks from agricultural use remained.” The uses voluntarily cancelled include “non-golf turf uses; sod farms, commercial turf, and golf course roughs.” Continued use allowances, like those retained under the voluntary action, cause disproportionate harm to farmworkers who work around or apply the pesticides in agriculture as well as their families living nearby—making this an act of environmental racism. 

EPA’s reliance on voluntary cancellations—which arises because of the cumbersome cancellation process established in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)—has been identified as a major problem in eliminating problem chemicals. EPA does have imminent hazard authority, which it can use to remove pesticides from use while it works through the legal process. Voluntary actions by the companies are highly compromised and do not include agency determinations or findings—allowing false claims of safety, offering a shield from liability, and unencumbered international marketing.  

Although it has not yet acted, EPA accepted comments on its dacthal pesticide registration review last year, particularly soliciting comments on the environmental justice implications. A report released in January, “US pesticide regulation is failing the hardest-hit communities. It’s time to fix it,” finds “people of color and low-income communities in the United States and around the world continue to shoulder the societal burden of harmful pollution.” More specifically, the authors state that “ongoing environmental injustice is the disproportionate impact these communities suffer from pesticides, among the most widespread environmental pollutants.” The report follows an earlier article by the same lead authors and others (see earlier coverage) on the long history of documented hazards and government failure to protect farmworkers from pesticide use in agriculture. In a piece posted earlier this year by Beyond Pesticides, the serious weaknesses in the worker protection standard for farmworkers are documented.   

In view of the serious health risks acknowledged by EPA, the agency must immediately suspend the registration of dacthal, pending any other actions. 

Tell EPA to immediately suspend the registration of dacthal, while Congress must urge the agency to take immediate action.

Letter to EPA:

In a move that defies the most basic principles of worker and public health protection, EPA has warned farmworkers of the risks of dacthal (dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate or DCPA), instead of taking steps to eliminate the risks. EPA’s press release says, “EPA is warning people of the significant health risks to pregnant individuals and their developing babies exposed to DCPA and will be pursuing action to address the serious, permanent, and irreversible health risks associated with the pesticide as quickly as possible.”

EPA states that it “found concerning evidence of health risks associated with DCPA use and application, even when personal protective equipment and engineering controls are used. The most serious risks extend to the developing babies of pregnant individuals. EPA estimates that some pregnant individuals handling DCPA products could be subjected to exposures from four to 20 times greater than what current DCPA product label use instructions indicate is considered safe. EPA is concerned that pregnant women exposed to DCPA could experience changes to fetal thyroid hormone levels, and these changes are generally linked to low birth weight, impaired brain development, decreased IQ, and impaired motor skills later in life.”

Despite suggesting several measures that it might take—including an immediate suspension order—EPA says it is “considering these tools as it moves forward with the DCPA registration review, but in light of the serious risks posed by DCPA, chose to warn the public of them at this time as it continues its work.” EPA’s press release gives an astonishing history of the agency’s failure to act, admitting that DCPA use on turf was voluntarily canceled by in December 2023, while “unacceptable risks from agricultural use remained.” The uses voluntarily cancelled include “non-golf turf uses; sod farms, commercial turf and golf course roughs.” Continued use allowances, like those retained under the voluntary action, cause disproportionate harm to farmworkers who work around or apply the pesticides in agriculture as well as their families living nearby—making this an act of environmental racism.

EPA’s reliance on voluntary cancellations—which arises because of the cumbersome cancellation process established in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)—has been identified as a major problem in eliminating problem chemicals. Voluntary actions by the companies are highly compromised and do not include agency determinations or findings—allowing false claims of safety, offering a shield from liability, and unencumbered international marketing.

Although it has not yet acted, EPA accepted comments on its dacthal pesticide registration review last year, particularly soliciting comments on the environmental justice implications. A report released in January, US pesticide regulation is failing the hardest-hit communities: It’s time to fix it, finds “people of color and low-income communities in the United States and around the world continue to shoulder the societal burden of harmful pollution.” More specifically, the authors state that “ongoing environmental injustice is the disproportionate impact these communities suffer from pesticides, among the most widespread environmental pollutants.” The report follows an earlier article by the same lead authors and others on the long history of documented hazards and government failure to protect farmworkers from pesticide use in agriculture. The serious weaknesses in the worker protection standard for farmworkers have also been documented.  

In view of the serious health risks acknowledged by EPA, the agency must immediately suspend the registration of dacthal pending any other actions.

Thank you for considering these comments.

Letter to Congress:

In a move that defies the most basic principles of worker and public health protection, EPA has warned farmworkers of the risks of the weed killer dacthal (dimethyl tetrachloroterephthalate or DCPA), instead of taking steps to eliminate the risks. EPA’s press release says, “EPA is warning people of the significant health risks to pregnant individuals and their developing babies exposed to DCPA and will be pursuing action to address the serious, permanent, and irreversible health risks associated with the pesticide as quickly as possible.” In view of the serious health risks acknowledged by EPA, please urge EPA to immediately suspend the registration of dacthal, pending any other actions.

EPA states that it “found concerning evidence of health risks associated with DCPA use and application, even when personal protective equipment and engineering controls are used. The most serious risks extend to the developing babies of pregnant individuals. EPA estimates that some pregnant individuals handling DCPA products could be subjected to exposures from four to 20 times greater than what current DCPA product label use instructions indicate is considered safe. EPA is concerned that pregnant women exposed to DCPA could experience changes to fetal thyroid hormone levels, and these changes are generally linked to low birth weight, impaired brain development, decreased IQ, and impaired motor skills later in life.”

Despite suggesting several measures that it might take—including an immediate suspension order—EPA says it is “considering these tools as it moves forward with the DCPA registration review, but in light of the serious risks posed by DCPA, chose to warn the public of them at this time as it continues its work.” EPA’s press release gives an astonishing history of the agency’s failure to act, admitting that DCPA use on turf was voluntarily canceled by in December 2023, while “unacceptable risks from agricultural use remained.” The uses voluntarily cancelled include “non-golf turf uses; sod farms, commercial turf and golf course roughs.” Continued use allowances, like those retained under the voluntary action, cause disproportionate harm to farmworkers who work around or apply the pesticides in agriculture as well as their families living nearby—making this an act of environmental racism.

EPA’s reliance on voluntary cancellations—which arises because of the cumbersome cancellation process established in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)—has been identified as a major problem in eliminating problem chemicals. Voluntary actions by the companies are highly compromised and do not include agency determinations or findings—allowing false claims of safety, offering a shield from liability, and unencumbered international marketing.

Although it has not yet acted, EPA accepted comments on its dacthal pesticide registration review last year, particularly soliciting comments on the environmental justice implications. A report released in January, US pesticide regulation is failing the hardest-hit communities: It’s time to fix it, finds “people of color and low-income communities in the United States and around the world continue to shoulder the societal burden of harmful pollution.” More specifically, the authors state that “ongoing environmental injustice is the disproportionate impact these communities suffer from pesticides, among the most widespread environmental pollutants.” The report follows an earlier article by the same lead authors and others on the long history of documented hazards and government failure to protect farmworkers from pesticide use in agriculture. The serious weaknesses in the worker protection standard for farmworkers have also been documented.  

Thank you for consideration of my request.

 

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One Response to “EPA Issues Warning to Farmworkers Instead of Regulating a Highly Hazardous Weed Killer as an Imminent Threat”

  1. 1
    Paula Morgan Says:

    Hey EPA … Don’t warn people of this killer. Instead get it off the shelves of stores!
    We live with Forever Chemicals. pesticides, Fertilizers, Fungicides, and more. We live with coated seeds which kill our wildlife and us as well, but again, no one cares. Europe has gotten rid of this junk but America still pushes it on their people. I feel people should come before stocks of corporations selling killing sprays. But, we don’t. Corporations want only stock buy backs and to hell with the American people. I resent being treated as if I don’t matter, but in truth, I don’t.

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