EPA Steps Up

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Decades late the EPA fi­nally does its job as­sess­ing com­mon pes­ti­cides

Af­ter read­ing the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s re­cent anal­y­sis of three ma­jor pes­ti­cides, about the only thing pos­i­tive thing you can say is that the chem­i­cals are very good at killing things. The prob­lem is they are killing a far more things than they should be.

The re­port is the first ever the EPA has con­cluded on the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts of three com­mon agri­cul­tural pes­ti­cides — chlor­pyri­fos, di­azi­non and malathion — on en­dan­gered species and their as­so­ci­ated habi­tats.

Chlor­pyri­fos is a chem­i­cal in­tro­duced by the Dow Chem­i­cal Com­pany 50 years ago and is cur­rently be­ing used pri­mar­ily to ex­ter­mi­nate ter­mites, mos­qui­toes and round­worms.

Di­azi­non, cre­ated by what was then Ciba-geigy, now Syn­genta, goes back even fur­ther than Chlor­pyri­fos. It was orig­i­nally in­tro­duced to con­trol cock­roaches, sil­ver­fish, ants and fleas in res­i­den­tial build­ings but is no longer le­gally al­lowed there.

Malathion is a chem­i­cal of­ten used for mos­quito con­trol but also has been used to at­tack such pests as the Mediter­ranean Fruit Fly go­ing back to the 1980s and has been sprayed on Cal­i­for­ni­ans reg­u­larly. It is also widely in use for pest con­trol on fruits, veg­eta­bles and plants for agri­cul­tural ap­pli­ca­tions, as well as for tick con­trol for pets. In lower doses it has been and con­tin­ues to be used as a treat­ment for head lice.

Be­sides for the most part be­ing good at what they are sold for, the EPA’S study also con­cluded the three pes­ti­cides are highly haz­ardous to many en­dan­gered species. It con­cluded that Chlor­pyri­fos and Malathion cause harm to 97% of the 1,782 an­i­mals and plants cov­ered as part of the En­dan­gered Species Act. Di­azi­non, still quite deadly, falls in the third place of the three but still does se­ri­ous dam­ages to 79% of the liv­ing be­ings on the en­dan­gered species act.

All three of these are what are known as organophos- phates. They are some of the old­est of all in­sec­ti­cides, and be­cause of that both some­what ‘grand­fa­thered in’ un­der many per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions and also widely used for decades on crops such as corn, wa­ter­melon and wheat.

Organophos­phates also are found in 87% of all hu­man um­bil­i­cal-cord sam­ples. Which means we are al­ready poi­soned to some ex­tent, and we are also pass­ing on the poi­son to our chil­dren.

The EPA Re­port was con­ducted in part as a legal­ly­man­dated con­se­quence of a le­gal set­tle­ment with the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity. That case con­cluded that the EPA had for far too long been al­low­ing all sorts of chem­i­cals into the en­vi­ron­ment with­out suf­fi­cient tests or fol­low-up ex­am­i­na­tions.

Al­though it is hard to cel­e­brate such bad news as the EPA was re­leas­ing with this draft of the re­port, Lori Ann Burd, en­vi­ron­men­tal health di­rec­tor at the Cen­ter, did re­fer to the cur­rent eval­u­a­tions as “a huge step for­ward for the EPA”, and said,

“For the first time in his­tory, we fi­nally have data show­ing just how cat­a­stroph­i­cally bad these pes­ti­cides are for en­dan­gered species — from birds and frogs to fish and plants. These dan­ger­ous pes­ti­cides have been used with­out proper anal­y­sis for decades, and now’s the time to take this new in­for­ma­tion and cre­ate com­mon-sense mea­sures to pro­tect plants, an­i­mals and peo­ple from these chem­i­cals.”

The peo­ple shouldn’t have to sue fed­eral agen­cies to get them to do their job, nor should it take decades to force them to do so, but that is in­creas­ingly the case.

With the EPA now hav­ing con­cluded its first stud­ies, even though they may come late, the agency is at least now fi­nally get­ting in line with others. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, as just one ex­am­ple, last year an­nounced that malathion and di­azi­non are prob­a­ble car­cino­gens.

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