After a decade-long review, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to allow continued use of 31 popular but controversial agricultural pesticides, concluding cumulative exposure does not pose a health risk.
WASHINGTON After a decade-long review, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to allow continued use of 31 popular but controversial agricultural pesticides, concluding cumulative exposure does not pose a health risk.
Although the potential danger of the chemicals, known as organophosphates, has been assessed individually over the years -- and in some cases their uses curtailed -- this was the first time the EPA examined the chemicals' risk as a group.
They are used extensively in agriculture to control pests on fruits, vegetables and other crops. They have been targeted by environmentalists who argue they pose a health risk especially to children. They have been linked to cancer as well as neurological and fertility problems.
Some health advocates and environmentalists argue all of them should be replaced with safer alternatives.
Two of the organophosphates -- diazonin and chlorpyrifos which once were widely used to control ants and fleas -- have been banned for residential use.
Seventeen organophosphates have been taken off the market during the 10-year review period. But diazonin and chlorpyrifos as well as 29 others may still be used in agriculture, said the EPA.
In a memorandum dated July 31, the EPA concluded that "the cumulative risks associated with exposures to all of the (31 chemicals) ... meet the safety risk standard" under the federal food protection law.
"We believe the approved tolerances" or allowed dose levels "neither individually or collectively make our food unsafe," Jim Gulliford, the assistant EPA administrator in charge of the pesticide program, said Friday in an interview.
Meanwhile, the EPA announced it was ordering another pesticide, carbofuran, off the market, a decision hailed by environmentalists because the insecticide has killed millions of birds over the years.
The EPA concluded there are "considerable risks associated with carbofuran in food and drinking water, risks to pesticide applicators and risk to birds that are exposed in treated fields." Most uses will be banned immediately while a small number of uses are to be phased out as alternatives are found.
Carbofuran is one of a group of pesticides known as known as carbamates. The overall assessment of that group also is close to being completed.
Under a 1996 food safety law the EPA was charged with re-examining all of the pesticides it regulates to determine if they pose an unacceptable health risk to children or other vulnerable population groups. The top priority was the 48 organophosphates that were sold at the time.
Continued use of the pesticides "represents an egregious abandonment of EPA's mission to protect the health and well-being of children, farm workers and rural residents," said Margaret Reeves, a scientist at the Pesticide Action Network, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.
She said those are the individuals who are "most likely to suffer the short and long-term health consequences of the continued use of these hazardous neurotoxins."
Carbofuran, sprayed into the soil, is used to control beetles and other pests, in corn, sorghum, alfalfa and rice and other crops. Its granular form was banned in the mid-1990s, after it was found to have killed more than 2 million birds.
It is still used in liquid form. Conservation groups have argued for years that it should be banned because of its severe toxicity to birds including eagles, owls, and hawks.
Source: Associated Press