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Action Alert: Don't Let the Pesticide Industry Undermine the Food Quality Protection Act
April 17, 2001
The U.S. Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA) is under attack through an attempted rollback of a court settlement that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fulfill its mandate under the law. Your help is needed to ensure that EPA keeps its promise to protect infants and children from exposure to toxic pesticides.
The FQPA, the most important piece of pesticide legislation passed in the U.S. in years, laid the foundation for health-based assessment of pesticides and attempted to deal with the problem of incomplete science that has plagued pesticide regulation from its inception. The law mandated that EPA reevaluate pesticide tolerances* and modify them to fit the standard of "reasonable certainty of no harm," as opposed to the prior approach that required balancing risks and benefits. The law also required EPA to take into consideration pesticide effects on infants and children, to study the effects of endocrine-disrupting pesticides, and to consider exposures from all possible routes--food, drinking water, residential and others. In addition, pesticides with a common mechanism of action were to be evaluated as a group, to account for possible additive effects of exposure to many different chemicals. After passage of FQPA, a great deal of work lay ahead for EPA. Not only did the act mandate reevaluation of over 9,600 tolerances within the next 10 years, it required some new science to be done first to guide the EPA in making their assessments. How are they doing? Not so well.
Consumer's Union (CU) recently released a report titled "A Report Card for the EPA: Successes and Failures in Implementing the Food Quality Protection Act." Overall, CU gave EPA a C- for its performance, with a grade of A for its handling of methyl parathion, but an overall grade of D for reducing dietary risks. With much of the work incomplete and evaluation of some of the most dangerous pesticides left undone, the picture looks suspiciously like one of endless delay, reminiscent of the years before the FQPA.
Specifically, in the first three years EPA was to review the most dangerous pesticides in the food supply to ensure they are safe for infants and children and to establish a program to screen and test pesticides to determine whether they disrupt hormonal or reproductive systems. However, by the first deadline in August 1999, EPA had not reassessed one-third of the highest-risk tolerances or established an endocrine disruptor screening program. Instead, EPA had taken concrete action on only one high-profile pesticide (methyl parathion) and picked 3,000 or so additional tolerances that were duplicative, not economically important or no longer in use to include in their report to Congress as evidence of meeting their obligations.
But EPA had not fulfilled their mandate of evaluating the highest-risk tolerances first. When EPA missed these deadlines, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and co-plaintiffs Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers, Pesticide Watch, CALPIRG, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Breast Cancer Fund sued to force the agency to implement the law. The suit was settled in January 2001, when EPA agreed to a settlement that requires it to actually enforce the FPQA by evaluating the riskiest pesticides first and moving forward by specific deadlines to act on notorious chemicals often found in drinking water and household products. A copy of the agreement is available at the EPA Web site.
Although the agreement simply requires that EPA follow the law, pesticide and chemical manufacturers have mounted a coordinated industry campaign to pressure the agency to withdraw from the settlement. Negotiations between NRDC and Administrator Christie Whitman in March resulted in EPA agreeing to stand by the settlement, for now. However, there is one more hurdle--a judge must now approve the settlement. Last week, the judge in the case opened an additional public comment period that allows one more opportunity to make comments on the settlement. Industry pressure on EPA remains high. We need your help to make sure that EPA does not attempt to withdraw from the settlement at the last minute. We are asking you to write to EPA and let them know that you would like the FQPA to be implemented.
What to do
Tell EPA administrator Christie Whitman to follow the law and protect our health, our children and the environment. Tell EPA that you support this settlement and encourage the agency to stand strong against industry interest groups. Use the sample letter we've provided, and feel free to include your own reasons why children need to be safeguarded from harmful pesticides. This comment period will close on May 14, 2001.
You can email EPA Administrator Christine Whitman, fax your comments directly to EPA or use the contact information and sample letter to send your own message. You should personalize your letter by telling the Administrator who you are (a parent, child, farm worker, suffer from breast cancer, concerned citizen, etc.).
Administrator Christie Whitman
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
ATTN: Stand by the FQPA Consent Decree!
*Each tolerance is a pesticide/crop combination
Dear Administrator Whitman:
I am deeply concerned about risks to children, farm workers, and the environment from hazardous pesticides. I urge you to stand by the consent decree and settlement agreement reached by the EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Breast Cancer Fund, United Farm Workers, Pesticide Action Network, Pesticide Watch, CalPIRG Charitable Trust, and Greater Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility.
As you know, the settlement agreement simply requires that the EPA follow the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act, unanimously passed in 1996, to review the most dangerous pesticides in our food supply to make sure they are safe for infants and children and establish a testing program to determine whether pesticides harm humans and the environment.
Please resist industry pressure and stand by your commitment to protect our children and our environment and follow the requirements of the law. I will be closely following the EPA's actions on pesticides over the coming years.
[Your name and address]
Natural Resources Defense Council, "Coalition Reaches Settlement with EPA To Regulate Pesticides"
Consumer's Union, "A Report Card for the EPA: Successes and Failures in Implementing the Food Quality Protection Act."
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