EPA considering limits for widely used insecticide

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2015 - Pressure is mounting on the Environmental Protection Agency to ban or further curb the use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide widely used to protect crops such as soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, citrus and peanuts.

EPA is reviewing a court order requiring the agency to decide whether it will suggest a ban on the commonly used insecticide known as chlorpyrifos by Oct. 31.

Chlorpyrifos-used in commercial products for 40 years-already has limits set on its use by the EPA, but the agency has now recognized concerns about its presence in drinking water. For example, the chemical has been detected with increasing frequency in Minnesota's surface water, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

In an opinion issued Monday by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA was told to release a proposed or final rule banning the pesticide or to otherwise issue a full and final response to a petition filed by the Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council nine years ago.

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EPA said in an email that is reviewing the decision with the Department of Justice.

Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network, said EPA can't kick the can down the road any longer, as a result of the court ruling.

In a status report last month for the court, the agency said it would publish a proposed rule to ban the product by April 2016, unless before that time the chlorpyrifos manufacturers have agreed to labeling changes to reduce risks from drinking water, the agency said. 

However, the court stated Monday that EPA's ambiguous plan to possibly issue a proposed rule nearly nine years after receiving the administrative petition is too little, too late.

The environmental groups petitioned EPA in 2007 to suspend all chlorpyrifos tolerances and cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations. Since then, EPA has denied seven counts of the petition and noted that it couldn't offer a final response until the agency completes its assessment of the insecticide.

Dow AgroSciences, which produces the Lorsban and Govern brands of the insecticide, expressed confidence in the agency's previous safety assessments of the product.

Labeled uses of chlorpyrifos rest on four decades of experience in use, health surveillance of manufacturing workers and applicators and more than 4,000 studies and reports examining the product in terms of human health and the environment, according to the company. No pest control product has been more thoroughly tested.

Chlorpyrifos was first registered as an insecticide in 1965, and the EPA re-registered it in 2006. It is applied to about 8.5 million crop acres in the U.S. every year. The chemical is registered in nearly 100 countries for use on more than 50 different crops against damage caused by a wide range of insect pests.

Outdoor home and in-home uses are already restricted for the insecticide. And about a decade ago, EPA required that all use of chlorpyrifos products in the United States be discontinued on tomatoes, restricted on apples to pre-bloom applications and severely restricted on grapes.

In 2012, EPA further limited the use of chlorpyrifos by lowering pesticide application rates and creating no-spray buffer zones around public spaces to increase protection for children and other bystanders. The lower application rates and other spray drift mitigation measures ensure that any chlorpyrifos exposure outside the application site will not reach harmful levels, the agency said.

Veena Singla, a staff scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, said EPA itself confirmed that chlorpyrifos harms children's brains at extremely low doses, that chlorpyrifos poses unacceptable risks to farmworkers, and that chlorpyrifos already contaminates drinking water at levels that are harmful to children.

EPA's December 2014 human health risk assessment showed some risks to workers who mix, load and apply chlorpyrifos pesticide products. The agency also said that when used in large amounts in small watersheds in certain geographic areas, chlorpyrifos shows potential risks from drinking water. There were no additional risks from chlorpyrifos in food or exposure to bystanders and workers from airborne chlorpyrifos, the agency said.

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