Calif backslides on fumigants; Endosulfan spill in Brazil; New path for EPA?; Who will lead Obama’s Ag Dept?; & more
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
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December 11, 2008
- California set to roll back controls on fumigants
- Endosulfan spill causes major fish-kill in Brazil
- Ask Obama for an Ag Secretary who represents change
- New direction for EPA?
- Praise for new chief of U.S. Environmental Health Service
- Video: citizens sue EPA for suspending rules
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has proposed relaxing rules intended to control smog-forming emissions from fumigant pesticides. According to a report on KQED’s This Week in Northern California, “environmental organizations have accused the DPR of backsliding on existing rules [while] the agency says it is protecting the economic welfare of farmers.” Smog continues to be a worsening problem in California's Central Valley and South Coast, causing billions of dollars in health costs and more than a billion dollars in crop damage every year. In 2004, San Joaquin's air quality classification was changed from Severe to Extreme but, instead of working aggressively toward its 1994 Clean Air Act commitment to reduce pesticide emissions to 20% below 1991 levels, the process languished until the DPR was jolted by a lawsuit led by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE). New regulations to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) went into effect in January 2008, affecting all products containing methyl bromide, 1-3 dichloropropene, chloropicrin, metam sodium, potassium N-methyldithiocarbamate (also called metam-potassium), dazomet, and sodium tetrathiocarbonate. The CRPE-led lawsuit was recently overturned on a technicality and DPR has now issued new regulations that would only cut emissions to 12% below 1991 levels — and only in the San Joaquin Air Quality Management District. Comments on the new regulations are due January 15, 2009. PAN, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and other Californians for Pesticide Reform organizations will be working hard to ensure that eliminating toxic VOCs from California’s air will move forward without further backsliding.
On November 18, Brazil’s O Globo reports PDF, a “toxic wave" of the insecticide endosulfan poisoned the Paraiba do Sul river at the height of the spawning season. The spill killed fish and river animals, forced the shutdown of water systems in several cities, placed 74,000 inhabitants in danger and forced 8,000 students from their schools. Endosulfan concentrations measured 70 micrograms per litre — 3.5 times the official “safe” levels. Biologist Guilherme Souza fears 80 river species “have been drastically affected” and predicts the spill will “diminish the fish reproduction in the region for the next three years.” The endosulfan gushed from a truck owned by Servatis, a company that had been fined for polluting the same river three months earllier. Government inspectors believe the spill may have involved 15,000 litres of endosulfan — “up to 10 times more” than Servatis reported. Five tons of dead fish washed up in the river town of Campos and the Campos Fishermen’s Association is suing Servatis for the loss of their livelihood. The State Environment Department has offered the fishers “auxillary aid” until the river recovers. Meanwhile, the chair of the Environment Defense Commission and a state representative of the Green Party have filed criminal charges against Servatis with the Environmental Police Department. While the maximum penalty for such a crime is R$50 million, the Environment Authority only fined Servatis R$33 million, claiming the firm “is in bad economic situation.” Even this may not be enough to save Servatis. According to O Globo, the firm “may be closed due to the penalty amount.”
The Secretary of Agriculture oversees the nation's food programs, farming policies, food safety and 297,000 square miles of forests. So food activists were alarmed to learn that President-elect Obama's leading Ag Sec nominee was former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a supporter of chemical-intensive farming and biotech crops. Vilsack was dropped after Obama's Transition Team received a flood of 10,000 critical letters unleashed by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). The Hill identifies one likely candidate as Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn). Peterson is a supporter of farm chemicals, monocropping and subsidies who once dismissed organic food shoppers as "dumb." There's another name in the hat — Colorado Rep. John Salazar, a seed potato family farmer who called for more Food Bill aid for fruits and vegetables — but also called for funding more "renewable fuels" research. "It sure would be nice if Obama picked someone not under the heel of Big Corn," OCA notes. "Someone with a holistic view of the U.S. food system, someone who doesn't behave as though the world exists to sop up industrially produced corn and soy." OCA wants the Transition Team to avoid another "business as usual" appointment in favor of true "change agents" like organic farm leader Jim Riddle, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, National Farm Union's Tom Buis, or Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.
Under the Bush presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency became a source of controversy with allegations of lax enforcement, manipulation of scientific studies and lawsuits. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young recently spoke with EPA veterans who described an agency beset by low morale, weak enforcement, and political meddling. EPA engineer Hugh Kaufman described Bush’s people as “basically a very sophisticated wrecking crew” that left EPA “hollowed out.” Jeff Holmstead, who headed the Bush EPA’s air office, had a warning for Obama’s team: “It’s unrealistic to think anyone can come in and just immediately change things around. That’s not the way the system is designed to work.” EPA is an agency crying out for transformative change - and the announcement that New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Lisa Jackson will be Obama's choice for EPA chief has generated mixed reactions. New Jersey Sierra Club Chief Jeff Tittle called Jackson "an outstanding choice [who] always stood up for principles." Jackson, a Princeton-trained chemical engineer, was credited for pushing the state's mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases. But the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has issued a detailed critique of Jackson's tenure in New Jersey, accusing her of "suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders and threats against professional staff" and "closed-door deal-making with regulated industry executives and lobbyists." PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch says Jackson is "cut from the same cloth as the current [EPA] administrator." PEER is asking the President-elect to "take a little more time to find the right choice for this critical job."
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Linda S. Birnbaum, Ph.D., has been named the new Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). She will take office in January 2009. Birnbaum served for 16 years as director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Experimental Toxicology Division. In announcing the appointment, Dr. Raynard S. Kington, acting director of the National Institutes of Health, praised Birbaum’s “long and distinguished career conducting research into the health effects of environmental pollutants.” Dr. Birnbaum will oversee a $730 million budget that funds biomedical research programs, prevention campaigns, and intervention efforts ranging from technology transfer to community outreach. The NIEHS currently supports more than 1,240 research grants. “Complex environmental issues require individual and team efforts to address the interactions between the environment and human health, ”says Dr. Birnbaum, adding that, because “chronic exposures and chronic diseases can have multiple causative factors, a broad array of scientific expertise is needed to understand such problems.” "This is an excellent appointment," said PAN senior scientist Susan Kegley. "NIEHS plays a critical role in funding research that helps connect the dots between chemical exposure and the incidence of disease and we feel confident that Dr. Birnbaum will lead the Institute in away that best protects public health." Dr.Birnbaum, who has served as a federal scientist for nearly 29 years has authored more than 600 peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, abstracts, and reports. Her research focuses on the pharmacokinetic behavior of environmental chemicals, including endocrine disruption.
In response to last year's aerial spraying in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties to control the Light Brown Apple Moth in northern California, a group including two Bay Area mayors has filed suit against U.S. EPA. "In some emergency situations," reports the Sonoma News, "the EPA can allow the use of a pesticide without registering it, which is what occurred when CheckMate was used after state agriculture officials said there was an imminent threat of the moths infesting more counties if not treated immediately." The state suspended spraying over urban areas in June 2008, but retained the possibility of spraying elsewhere. "No governmental agency is above the law. We have no choice but to ask the federal courts to find the EPA in violation and to require it to enforce the environmental laws that protect the public and the environment from harmful pesticides," said Frank Egger, of North Coast Rivers Alliance and a former Marin County mayor. "We must never allow this to happen again," Egger declared. Joining in the suit are Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Albany Mayor Robert Lieber, and Santa Cruz City Councilmember Tony Madrigal. EPA has 60 days to respond.