The real "burden" of pesticide rules | Pesticide Action Network
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The real "burden" of pesticide rules

Kristin Schafer's picture
Tractor on farm

Note: The EPA comment period on the proposal to repeal environmental regulations has closed since the time this blog was published. Reportedly, the 55,000+ responses were full of Americans sharing their experiences of growing up with dirty air and water, and with pleas for the agency not to undo safeguards that could return the country to a more polluted era. Thank you for speaking up!

As concerns about the Trump Administration's legitimacy continue to swirl, newly installed agency leaders are plowing ahead with their radical anti-regulatory agenda. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, for example, is now contemplating which pesticide rules should be rolled back — and he's asking the public to weigh in by next Monday, May 15.

Our response? You're asking the wrong question, Mr. Pruitt. Regulation of pesticides in our country is indeed flawed and overly burdensome, but not in the way your question presumes.

A broken system

Decisions on which chemicals can be used in agricultural fields rely heavily on industry-sponsored science. Once a pesticide is on the market, it's almost impossible to withdraw its use — even when new science clearly shows it is much more dangerous than regulators originally thought.

Atrazine is a classic case in point. When new science suggested this widely used herbicide might be linked to cancer, European regulators pulled it from the market until it could be proven safe. EPA, in contrast, allowed use of the chemical to continue — presumably until it was "proven" unsafe.

This was back in 2003, and evidence linking atrazine to increased risk of certain cancers has only gotten stronger, as has the science showing how the chemical disrupts the human hormone system.

The herbicide remains banned in Europe, while an estimated 70 million pounds are still used every year in U.S. agricultural fields, mostly in cornbelt states like Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. USDA has found atrazine in 94% of the drinking water samples tested, including particularly concerning levels in Midwest states.

The actual "regulatory burden"

Other recent examples of our broken system include lack of action on glyphosate (the main ingredient in Monsanto's RoundUp) despite emerging science linking this widely used herbicide to cancer, and Mr. Pruitt's controversial decision to block his own agency's plans to pull the brain-harming insecticide chlorpyrifos from the market.

Rather than asking what pesticide rules should be relaxed, EPA should be exploring how it can:

  • Protect rural and farm families who breathe and drink pesticides known to increase risk of cancer.
  • Do better by farmworkers and pesticide applicators, who have much higher rates of many diseases linked to pesticides.
  • Help farmers trapped on the pesticide treadmill as they respond to rapidly evolving superweeds created by overuse of these chemicals on genetically engineered crops.
  • Safeguard the health of children across the country exposed to daily doses of brain-harming pesticides like chlorpyrifos in their food, water and air.

These are the "regulatory burdens" EPA should be addressing.

Please join us in telling Mr. Pruitt that his question about which rules to roll back is fundamentally flawed. The right question? How can EPA actually protect public health and the environment, rather than putting short-term pesticide industry profits above all else.

Kristin Schafer
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Kristin Schafer is PAN's Executive Director. With training in international policy and social change strategies, Kristin has been at PAN for over 20 years. Before taking on the Executive Director role, she was PAN's program and policy director. She has been lead author on several PAN reports, with a particular emphasis on children's health. She serves on the Policy Committee of the Children's Environmental Health Network. Follow @KristinAtPAN