PANNA: Action Alert: Strengthen Controls on Pesticide Drift


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Action Alert: Strengthen Controls on Pesticide Drift
January 18, 2002

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently considering comments on its draft Pesticide Registration (PR) Notice that aims to control pesticide spray drift largely by changing the labeling of pesticide products. The agency is accepting comments on the PR Notice until Friday March 29, 2002. Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) urges you to send a letter to EPA voicing your concerns about the proposed drift-control strategies, emphasizing that for any approach to be truly effective, it must aim to reduce significantly the amount of pesticides applied, in particular those that are the most toxic.

Drift is a serious problem because pesticides do not stay where they are applied. Spray droplets are blown downwind during applications, chemicals evaporate off of leaf and soil surfaces and drift away in the breeze, and pesticide-coated soil particles can create toxic dust clouds. Nearly every pesticide application results in some amount of drift, and under certain wind and temperature conditions, up to 80% of the applied pesticide never reaches the target crop.

“The fundamental problem with EPA’s proposed drift-control measures is the narrow definition of drift,” said Susan Kegley, Staff Scientist at PANNA. “EPA’s definition fails to address any off-site pesticide movement that occurs after an application. The result is that they are ignoring 75 to 95% of total drift for many pesticides. Such a limited view won’t address the real problems,” she added.

Another flaw in the proposed regulation is that technical specifications have only a limited ability to control drift despite improved engineering. “Acute poisonings still occur with disturbing regularity and chronic poisonings are even more common. More of the same ‘technology enhancement’ approach will not protect people and the environment,” Kegley commented.

In addition, a crucial issue is that toxicological data on inhalation exposures are not available for most pesticides. Inhaled pesticides bypass the digestive system’s powerful enzymes that help break down chemicals before they are circulated to all parts of the body. Also, EPA’s current risk assessments assume that people are exposed to only one pesticide at a time despite air monitoring data that show that people are frequently exposed to multiple pesticides simultaneously in the air they breathe. The toxicological effects of exposure to multiple chemicals are unknown.

“Simply put, we need new strategies to control pesticide drift. The real solution for reducing drift is to ban the use of drift-prone pesticides and problematic spray technologies altogether,” Kegley stated.

The off-site movement of agricultural pesticides causes economic damage to both organic and conventional farms and affects farm workers and neighboring communities. Between 1991 and 1996, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation reported nearly 4,000 cases of agricultural pesticide poisoning. Approximately 44% of those cases were caused by drift, affecting both individuals and groups of workers.

In addition to exposure of agricultural workers and their families, drift exposure occurs in areas where population growth is rapid, and new housing developments are built next to farmlands. In 1999, over 150 people were forced from their homes in Earlimart, California when pesticide fumes blanketed the town after fumigation of a local potato field went awry. Fire fighters forced affected residents to strip naked and hosed them down with water to decontaminate them. Thirty people went to the emergency room, but many more could not go because they could not afford it. Over two years later, many of those exposed to the fumigant are still experiencing respiratory problems.

Organic farmers face a particularly difficult situation when toxic pesticides drift onto their land since residues from pesticide drift can prevent their produce from being labeled as organic. Delayed certification, disruption of beneficial insects and even destruction of crops from pesticide drift can have negative economic consequences for organic farms.

Studies in California have also shown that ecosystems suffer when pesticides drift far away from their intended target. When the California State Water Quality Control Board measured the concentration of diazinon, an organophosphorus insecticide, in rainwater, it found levels of the pesticide that exceeded the lethal dose for Daphnia, a small invertebrate used to test the toxicity of natural waters. The same pesticide was found in high concentrations in frogs in mountains 50 miles from agricultural areas, and has been linked to the decline in their numbers.

ACTION: Submit your comments to EPA on Pesticide Registration Notice 2001-X, “Spray and Dust Drift Label Statements for Pesticide Products,” on or before Friday March 29, 2002. The EPA Notice can be found at

Send emails to [email protected], with OPP- 00730A in the subject line, or send a letter referencing Docket No. OPP- 00730A to:

Public Information and Records Integrity Branch (PIRIB)
Information Resources and Services Division (7502C)
Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP)
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460 U.S.A.

For a sample letter and more detailed talking points, please see

Sources: Global Pesticide Campaigner, August 2001;

Contact: PANNA.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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