WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2016 - EPA’s proposal to revoke food tolerances for the widely used insecticide chlorpyrifos resulted in predictably different reactions from the crop protection industry and environmental groups.
The former see the agency abandoning “objective, well-understood concepts of risk assessment,” while the latter want EPA to cancel all uses of the organophosphate insecticide “based on the risks posed to workers and bystanders and the serious extent and nature of those risks.”
The first quote is from comments submitted by CropLife America, the principal trade association for pesticide manufacturers; the latter comes from a coalition of farmworker, environmental health and labor groups involved in litigation targeting the chemical.
Tuesday was the deadline for comments on EPA’s Nov. 6 proposal to revoke tolerances for chlorpyrifos, which is known by a variety of trade names, including Dursban and Lorsban.
On Dec. 10, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the agency to make a final decision by the end of 2016. That order followed an opinion issued by the court in August that said “EPA’s ambiguous plan to possibly issue a proposed rule nearly nine years after receiving (environmental groups’) administrative petition is too little, too late.” The court called the delay “egregious.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America petitioned EPA in 2007 to revoke the tolerances.
In its proposal, EPA said it could not determine that “aggregate exposure to residues of chlorpyrifos, including all anticipated dietary exposures and all other non-occupational exposures for which there is reliable information, are safe.”
Even though its assessment indicated that while dietary exposures were safe, EPA said problems arise when “when those exposures are combined with estimated exposures from drinking water.”
Specifically, “EPA has determined that safe levels of chlorpyrifos in the diet may be exceeded for people whose drinking water is derived from certain vulnerable watersheds throughout the United States. This primarily includes those populations consuming drinking water from small water systems in heavily cropped areas where chlorpyrifos may be used widely.”
CropLife America (CLA) said its “members are deeply concerned about a shift to an unjustified, unexplained, and more precautionary approach to the regulation of pesticides and ask that (EPA), at its earliest opportunity, confirm that its regulatory process remains grounded in science-based risk assessment.”
The National Cotton Council (NCC) also took issue with the agency’s approach, quoting EPA’s proposal, in which the agency said it was unable “to determine with any great specificity which uses in which areas of the country do or do not present a risk concern.”
“In essence,” NCC said in its comments, “EPA is stating (it) does not have reliable data identifying a concern for drinking water (especially no monitoring data), but does not have time to complete its job due to time constraints imposed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
CLA, NCC and the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) all criticized the agency for its use of epidemiological data. CLA said the agency was relying on “epidemiological studies of questionable validity and relevance, while minimizing and/or excluding a vast body of toxicological and other valid and relevant data.”
NCC said that “the contrast of the controlled studies required of registrants with the reported (epidemiological) studies, and more weight being placed on the reported studies is directly inconsistent with past EPA protocol.”
And ARA said EPA had employed “selective use of certain epidemiological studies.” Each of the groups noted that EPA had not been given access to the raw data that formed the basis of one of the studies.
“EPA’s comprehensive endorsement of the Columbia University epidemiology study raises serious questions regarding the agency’s use of a wide range of important occupational handler scenarios,” ARA said.
There was a stark contrast between those groups’ comments and the comments from environmental and farm worker groups, submitted on their behalf by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm.
“Chlorpyrifos is a widely used, dangerous pesticide that causes poisonings of workers and bystanders every year and is associated with alarming neurodevelopmental impairments to children exposed during early life stages,” they said.
“EPA is appropriately proposing to revoke all tolerances and thereby end all food uses of chlorpyrifos,” they said. “EPA should act expeditiously to finalize these tolerance revocations and cancel the associated uses. It should also move quickly to cancel all chlorpyrifos uses – even non-food uses – based on the risks posed to workers and bystanders and the serious extent and nature of those risks.”
In its proposal, EPA left the door open for continued use of chlorpyrifos, they said. But the onus will be on the registrants to show that it is safe, they added.
“It is important to note that the registrants bear the burden of proving safety, and that safety must be demonstrated on an aggregate and cumulative basis,” they said. “The proponents of chlorpyrifos bear the ultimate burden of persuasion related to the chlorpyrifos registration.”
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