Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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- U.S. laws don't protect children from toxic exposures
- New evidence for 'chemical cocktail' effect in bee deaths
- Experts recommend endosulfan for global export watchlist
- California farmers use Farm Bill to go organic
Lax regulations expose children in the U.S. to toxic chemicals that are "setting the stage for an overwhelming wave of disease and disability...in the coming decades," testified Pesticide Action Network board member Dr. Ted Schettler to a Senate committee Wednesday. Dr. Schettler is also the science director for the Science and Environmental Health Network and a previous advisor to the National Academy of Sciences and the EPA. According to CNN, Schettler cited evidence of childhood pesticide exposures increasing the risk of Parkinsons Disease, and called for a fundamental overhaul of the national laws governing chemicals. “Compared to adults, developing children are uniquely susceptible to hazardous environmental exposures,” Schettler told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Dr. Gina Solomon, Senior Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the committee that EPA has failed to adequately consider the effects of pesticide exposure on children. "Current regulation may be leaving potentially dangerous chemical residues on food, where they could harm infants and children," reports Solomon in her blog on the committee hearings.
In testimony before the same Senate committee, an official from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), John Stephenson, told lawmakers that efforts to protect children from environmental threats "waned during the last decade." USA Today reports GAO's recent findings that the Bush-era EPA consistently failed in its duty to protect kids' health, with "top officials routinely ignor[ing] scores of recommendations by the agency's own children's health advisory committee." During the committee hearing, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) was more pointed. He said efforts to protect children from environmental hazards "ground to a halt during the Bush administration" and the EPA office for children's health "withered on the vine." The GAO report, released Wednesday, documents how the EPA allowed the children's health office to founder. "From 2002 to 2008, the office had four acting directors and no permanent director," the report says. It suffered the effects of "inconsistent leadership and direction" and was thus unable to "fulfill its priorities and commitments." The report also chastised the agency for failing to "proactively" use its Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee to maintain a focus on protecting children's environmental health. The committee was established in the late 1990s to offer agency leaders advice and recommendations on research and regulations. The GAO identified 607 recommendations made by the committee during the past decade, many of which were ignored by Bush-era EPA officials. Sen. Lautenberg is expected to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to dramatically strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the decades-old law currently governing industrial chemicals.
Finding an average of 8 different pesticides -- at times up to 31 -- in honeybee hives, a new study illuminates the “unprecedented” pesticide load place on bees and other pollinators, according to ScienceNews. Noting that the mix, or synergistic effects, of the pesticide burden borne by bees may be much more harmful than any one chemical exposure alone, scientists from the American Chemical Society called “for emergency funding to address the myriad holes in our scientific understanding of pesticide consequences for pollinators.” The two-year study analyzed pollen, wax, and live bees from both healthy bee colonies and those suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder – a mysterious disease responsible for decimating over a third of the U.S. honeybee population since 2006. The results show that not only are hives contaminated by record numbers of crop pesticides and mite-killing chemicals, but that these chemicals may be interacting in very harmful and unknown ways. In beeswax samples, the study found that “87 pesticides and metabolites were found with up to 39 different detections in a single sample," including the breakdown products of the contaminants, some of which do more damage their the chemicals in their original forms. Among the pesticides most commonly found: chlorpyrifos, endosulfan and atrazine.
Researchers also found that in may cases, the bees’ homes (wax and pollen) were far more contaminated than the live bees themselves, but supposed that the difference was due to the fact that the sample bees were mostly queens, brood nurses and adolescents – not the worker bees who are, “on the chemical frontlines, foraging in pesticide treated fields.” In fact the study found very few healthy worker bees in the hives, indicating that the poisoned foragers likely die before they ever make it home. And direct mortality, the researchers noted, is not the primary risk of this toxic load. Little is known about how miticides, a chemical applied to kill parasitic bee mites, interact with crop pesticides, and the scientists involved say that, “these miticides may, when paired up with other classes of pesticides, act synergistically to poison insects.” Even the healthy colonies that were studied, only 1 wax sample, 3 pollen samples and 12 bees were found to be free of detectable pesticides. Even the sublethal impacts of these chemical cocktails, which affect honey bee learning, orientation and immune system functioning, will have devastating effects on the $14 billion worth of U.S. crops that depend on these pollinators each year.
Experts in chemical regulation from around the world gathered in Geneva last week to consider adding several pesticides to the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, and recommended that the highly toxic insecticides endosulfan and azinphos-methyl be listed. The goal of the UN-backed treaty is to help poor countries manage toxic substances by providing a mechanism for countries to share information about chemicals and to notify each other of bans and restrictions. Importantly, chemicals included on the treaty's "watch list" can only be exported to a country if the importing country explicitly consents to imports. This concept of "prior informed consent" was first formulated at Pesticide Action Network's founding meeting in 1982, and became binding international law in 2004 when the Rotterdam Convention entered into force. When the Parties to the Convention meet in 2011 they will make the final decision whether to include endosulfan and azinphos-methyl in the treaty.
According to PAN Asia Pacific's Meriel Watts, who was present at the meeting, "All of the experts on the Committee agreed that endosulfan should be added to the Convention, except the delegate from India, who did everything he could to prevent endosulfan from moving forward. In the end, he forced the Committee to vote on the issue, and the Committee voted to recommend that endosulfan be added to the Convention." If this sounds familiar, it's because it is: By itself or with the support of just a handful of other nations, India has blocked consensus on endosulfan-related issues at the last several meetings of the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, forcing the otherwise ballot-shy United Nations bodies to vote. "At least during the many discussions, several Committee members and one observer country were moved to make pointed comments about India’s conflict of interest," said Watts, referring to the fact that the Indian government owns a chemical plant that produces endosulfan and is the world's largest exporter of the chemical.
California farmers are leaders in using federal conservation funding to support transition to organic production, reports the California Farm Bureau. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides cost-share assistance to farmers and ranchers for implementing projects with environmental benefits, such as soil, water, air and wildlife protection. Funds from the EQIP program helped San Joaquin County farmer Jack Bozzano transition his olive production to organic by implementing the use of cover crops to build soil organic matter and nutrient availability; nutrient analyses of plant, soil and water; and pheromone attractants to trap the olive fruit fly. During 2009, the first year it was offered, California led the nation with 158 contracts for conservation work carried out through program, which is administered through the local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). According to Pesticide Action Network senior scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves, the NRCS program is "one of the best ways to support organic farming in California and offers a model for how California should implement its own policies to support agricultural practices that protect the environment and workers' health while sustaining a healthy agricultural economy."
PAN is partnering with several organizations to work on implementing the National Organic Action Plan (NOAP) in California. The NOAP, which was released in January of this year, is designed to be implemented separately in each state. Currently, PAN is working with partners to investigate barriers faced by California farmers transitioning to organics and to identify creative solutions for the higher labor costs associated with organic farming, all with an eye to developing California state policy around these issues. The EQIP program provides an excellent model for the kinds of practices and programs that the California Organic Action Plan will need to support.