Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
New York Sues Dow for Calling Dursban Safe
Dow Agrosciences is the target of legal action by the state of New York for falsely advertising the pesticide Dursban as “safe.”
In early April 2003, New York’s state attorney announced that he will sue the pesticide producing subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company for breaching a 1994 agreement against false advertising. The lawsuit, to be filed in the New York Supreme Court, will seek a court order directing the company to stop deceptive advertising. The state is also seeking monetary damages in the range of “tens of millions” of dollars. Dow maintains that the charges are unwarranted.
Labels for Dursban continue to claim the safety of the product despite the documented toxicity of its active ingredient, chlorpyrifos. Exposure to chlorpyrifos can lead to a range of symptoms, including excessive salivation and tearing, uncontrolled urination, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, pinpoint pupils, confusion and dizziness. Tremors, convulsions or respiratory paralysis may occur at higher doses, sometimes leading to coma and death. These neurological effects of exposure are caused by the chemicals ability to block the function of cholinesterase, an enzyme necessary for the proper transmission of nerve impulses.
According to New York State Attorney Eliot Spitzer, the state’s 1994 agreement with Dow specified that the company was to stop making public claims that Dursban was “safe.” Spitzer notes that such unsubstantiated safety claims are also prohibited by state and federal law.
Chlorpyrifos is a suspected endocrine disruptor, with potential to interfere with the natural function of estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormones. There are no data suggesting that chlorpyrifos is a human carcinogen or reproductive toxicant.
Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used on agricultural crops, livestock and until very recently for home pest control as well (primarily as a termiticide and in pet flea collars). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 20 million pounds of chlorpyrifos were applied in the U.S. in the year 2000, about half for agricultural uses and half for residential uses. Approximately half of all agricultural applications are in corn production.
Home use products containing chlorpyrifos are being phased out, with most uses banned by the end of 2002. Some residential and other non-agricultural use of chlorpyrifos will continue, including mosquito control, outdoor areas where children’s exposure is unlikely, and container baits in homes. Agriculturally, the pesticide’s use on apples and grapes has been restricted and use on tomatoes was eliminated in 2000, but many other uses continue.
Chlorpyrifos was also highlighted in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which measured chemicals in the blood and urine of the U.S population. The CDC report documented metabolites of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in study subjects, and found particularly high levels of the chemical in children age 6-11 years (PANUPS, February 14, 2003, http://www.panna.org/resources/panups/panup_20030214.dv.html).
In 1997, the New York State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Monsanto arguing that the company’s advertising inaccurately portrayed Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing products (brand name Roundup) as safe and not causing any harmful effects to people or the environment. As part of an out-of-court settlement, Monsanto agreed to discontinue use of terms such as “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly” in all advertising of glyphosate-containing products in New York state and paid US$50,000 toward the state’s costs of pursuing the case.
Sources: Press Release, New York Attorney General’s Office “State to Sue Pesticide Manufacturer Over Misleading Ads: Dow Chemical Co. Subsidiary to Renege on Earlier Agreement” April 2, 2003; Reuters “NY sues Dow unit over pesticide advertising” April 4, 2003 http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/20371/story.htm ; PANUPS, January 10, 1997.
For more information on Chlorpyrifos, visit: http://www.panna.org/resources/documents/factsChlorpyrifos.dv.html and http://www.pesticideinfo.org.
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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