Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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- Final fumigant rules amended
- California looking to cut environmental health agency
- EPA investigating pet spot-on flea treatments
- New challenge to California's pesticide smog rules
- Less is more for cockroach control
- Summer interns flock to organic farms
Yesterday, May 27, the U.S. EPA announced "amendments" to final rules it issued in July 2008 on use of fumigant pesticides. After four years of a wide-ranging assessment of four fumigants, many increased protections for workers and rural residents remain, including improvements advocated by public health and community groups. Yet the agency appears to have backpedaled in response to industry pressure. Fumigants, among the most dangerous and heavily used pesticides, are applied as a gas, primarily to soil before planting or for structural pest control. Almost all of the May 27 revisions weaken the rules. Protections for schools, day care centers, other sensitive sites, and workers have been diluted. The changes allow toxic zones around fumigated fields to cross roads, and no longer require fumigators to notify state agencies unless requested.
"Dropping notifications of fumigations to state agencies means that workers who are experiencing symptoms will have less of a chance of linking the symptoms to fumigant exposure,” responded Jeannie Economos of Farmworker Association of Florida. Buffer zones for chloropicrin have been reduced. "This, after the fall 2007 incident in Yerington, NV, where the application was done correctly yet 24 workers in a field 1/3 mile away were poisoned, along with other chloropicrin poisoning incidents in California, indicate that the buffer zones should be larger, not smaller," said Pesticide Action Network consulting scientist Susan Kegley. Communities that have experienced fumigant exposure most dramatically, as in 1999 in Earlimart, CA where at least 178 people were poisoned by drifting metam sodium, are particularly concerned. Teresa DeAnda founded El Comite Para el Bienestar de Earlimart to prevent further accidents. “After so many years, it is disturbing that the health of our communities is still expendable," says DeAnda, who now represents Californians for Pesticide Reform in the Central Valley. “Most disturbing,” says Anne Katten, an industrial safety expert with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, “is the erosion of protections for the workers who cut and remove the tarps used to hold fumigants in the soil after application.” Tarps can now be removed only two hours after perforation, where for methyl bromide 24-hour aeration is required by California. Brian Hill, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network, noted, “It's ironic that the Obama administration, despite sending a strong message that decisions would now be based on science, is nibbling away at protections that the Bush administration signed.” The amended fumigant mitigations will come into force over the next two years.
As California’s budget crisis rages on and voters reject a recent round of special ballot initiatives, the Governor’s office is moving to deliver on his promise of “cuts, cuts, cuts.” Among the critical programs currently on the chopping block is the state’s small and science-driven Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment (OEHHA). It is nearly alone among state offices in the U.S. in being charged with evaluating the health effects of chemicals in the air, water, food and soil. “At $8.3 million, OEHHA’s budget is so small that the costs of re-allocating its workload would very nearly offset any savings. The proposed cut is therefore mysterious if considered on its own merits,” explains PAN Senior Scientist, Margaret Reeves. “It's a political move based on OEHHA’s history of doing its job even when findings aren’t popular or easy to implement.” OEHHA’s international reputation for leading the nation with independent environmental health science has earned the office friends and foes alike. "This is a feisty little office of scientists who are actually trying to do their job to protect public health," says NRDC's Dr. Gina Solomon. OEHHA was the first agency in the world to declare secondhand smoke a breast carcinogen, and on May 29 OEHHA will begin considering the listing of 38 chemicals under California's Proposition 65, including five pesticides (dicofol, methoxychlor, permethrin, tetrachlorvinphos, and triclosan). "Without OEHHA scientists to compile and evaluate the research supporting the listing, this action would not be possible," observes Caroline Cox of the Center for Environmental Health. Such actions put the office at odds with industry ranging from big tobacco to Dow Chemical. OEHHA has also kept its parent regulatory agency, California EPA, honest by insisting upon science-based risk assessments without regard for political fallout. Environmental health advocates, including Pesticide Action Network, Natural Resources Defense Council and California Rural Legal Assistance have rallied to save the office. The California state legislature will convene to decide OEHHA’s fate on Tuesday, June 2nd. Californians take action to save OEHHA.
More pet owners are reporting "side effects from over-the-counter and prescription flea and tick treatments," reports the U.S. EPA, according to the Wall Street Journal. Incidents "range from skin irritation to seizures and sometimes death." The agency says that because "the number of reported incidents stemming from so-called spot-on flea and tick treatments -- drops that are applied directly to a pet's skin, usually on the back -- increased 53% to 44,263 in 2008," it is "intensifying an evaluation of spot-on products." Products under investigation include those from major manufacturers such as Sumitomo, Hartz Mountain, Central Life Sciences, Bayer (Advantage), and Merial (a Merck and Sanofi-Aventis joint venture that makes Frontline). The companies claim that owner misuse is the cause, as such treatments have increasingly replaced sprays and shampoos over the last 15 years. However, vets report, at least one problem is that a pyrethroid pesticide common in dog products is dangerous for cats. "For example, the chemical permethrin, found in spot-on treatments such as Bayer's K9 Advantix... 'causes [a cat's] nervous system to go into overdrive,' says Mark Stickney, director of general surgery services at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. 'They can develop seizures.' Dr. Stickney says he sees such cases once or twice a month in the emergency room." Natural Resources Defense Council recommends that pesticide-laden flea collars and topical treatments should be taken off the market, because "many pet products for sale contain toxic chemicals that can harm people and poison pets."
"Grass-roots public health groups have opened a new front in their five-year battle against California over rules to curb smog caused by the use of fumigants on farmland," the Los Angeles Times reported on May 27. "In a lawsuit filed last week in Sacramento County Superior Court, groups from the Ventura and San Joaquin Air Basins charged that in adopting new regulations last month, the state failed to analyze reasonable alternatives or to minimize the impact of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from treating strawberries and other crops. 'Pesticides rank among the largest contributors to California's notoriously smoggy air,' said Brent Newell, legal director of the San Francisco-based Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment [CRPE]." Like auto exhaust and other sources of VOCs, pesticides are a significant source of the general problem of smog in several air basins, especially in the Central Valley, according to Pesticide Action Network. More specifically, the VOCs that are in pesticide products, sometimes as the active ingredient and sometimes as part of the overall product formulation, are contributing to ground-level ozone formation. "The San Joaquin Valley's smog problem has gone from serious to severe to extreme in just eight years," observes Brian Hill, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network. "Cutting pesticide emissions should be a corresponding priority." Plaintiffs in this latest CRPE lawsuit include Community and Children's Advocates Against Pesticide Use in Ventura, and El Comite Para el Bienestar de Earlimart, Committee for a Better Arvin and the Association of Irritated Residents, three groups from the Central Valley.
"An innovative cockroach control strategy," reports Reuters Health, that "keeps pesticide use to a minimum is much more effective than the standard approach -- regular, massive sprays of powerful bug-killers." A study of efficacy of the approach in schools is published in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology by Dr. Coby Schal of North Carolina State University and his colleagues. Schal told Reuters that his group had "previously demonstrated that ... integrated pest management (IPM) works better than indiscriminate, regular spraying to control cockroach infestations and reduce levels of cockroach allergen in apartment buildings." Cockroach dust allergens pose a significant health threat, especially for children. IPM adoption is a major breakthrough, he said, "because efforts to control the insects have had disappointing results." While home IPM is not new, schools are increasingly taking it up. The researchers compared schools using conventional pest control with those using IPM. "They found that schools using IPM caught zero cockroaches in pre-set traps and they also had much lower concentrations of cockroach allergens. In North Carolina, all schools must convert to IPM by 2011." Other states are adopting similar programs, while pioneering work in homes continues from coast to coast. In Los Angeles, for example, the Healthy Homes Collaborative has been training residents and managers of public housing how to apply least toxic pest management. In April, the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform conducted a workshop on IPM for apartment owners and property managers. IPM typically involves inspecting and monitoring cockroach and other insect populations, identifying hot spots, and applying pesticides targeted to the insects and "less likely to harm people compared to broad-spectrum pesticides," Reuters reports. Sticky traps, for example, "may be placed inside cabinets, out of children's reach. Cockroach allergen is then removed from the area by vacuuming and cleaning surfaces. "'In the hands of the public sector,' Schal said, 'integrated pest management is actually working quite well.'"
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"Erin Axelrod, who graduated from Barnard College last week with an urban studies degree, will not be fighting over the bathroom with her five roommates on the Upper West Side this summer. Instead she will be living in a tent, using an outdoor composting toilet and harvesting vegetables on an organic farm near Petaluma, Calif.," reports the New York Times. "As the sole intern at a boutique dairy in upstate New York, Gina Runfola, an English and creative writing student, has traded poetry books for sheep. And Jamie Katz, an English major at Kenyon College in Ohio, is planting peach trees at Holly Tree Farm in Virginia. These three are part of a new wave of liberal arts students who are heading to farms as interns this summer, in search of both work, even if it might pay next to nothing, and social change." Some 1,400 organic farms sought interns this year, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, "almost triple the number two years ago". Over 150 applied for one of four internships at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley of northern California. That's where Alex Liebman is spending his third farm internship, taking a full year off from Macalester College in St. Paul. "'I’m not sure that I can affect how messed up poverty is in Africa or change politics in Washington,” he said, “but on the farm I can see the fruits of my labor. By actually waking up every day and working in the field and putting my principles into action, I am making a conscious political decision,' he added."