EPA Waffles on Dursban
On Monday, Beyond Pesticides in Washington D.C. revealed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had made a private agreement with the Dow Chemical Company to permit use of Dursban (chlorpyrifos is the active ingredient) in new home construction for as long as three years after a scheduled ban. EPA had announced in 2000 that this potent neurotoxin, widely sold under trade names Dursban and Lorsban, would be phased out as a termiticide for new construction (as well as most home uses) due to its unacceptable health risks to children.
Based on this, U.S. production of Dursban for pre-construction was scheduled to end December 31, 2004, and use of the chemical in new construction was to end by December of 2005 . Then in 2003, Dow provided EPA with a “safety analysis” of the chemical, which has not been made public. That analysis, according to Dow spokesman Garry Hamlin, employed new EPA mathematical modeling to gauge pesticide exposures linked to construction and found “it [i.e. Dursban exposure] falls within an acceptable range.” Hamlin told Scripts Howard News Service that EPA notified Dow earlier in December that a new indoor air monitoring study was needed, and that home construction use could continue for up to three years while the study was performed and evaluated. When reporters contacted EPA about the agreement, EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs announced that the agency still expects Dow to stop production of Dursban for home construction on Dec. 31, but that the administration will review the company’s petition over the next month and a half to consider permitting production and use of Dursban while the indoor air monitoring study is underway.
“If EPA proceeds with this deal, it is shirking its basic responsibility to protect children and the public from hazardous pesticides like chlorpyrifos and only serving the interests of Dow Chemical,” said Jay Feldman, of Beyond Pesticides, “There are widely available alternatives which make this hazardous chemical simply unnecessary,” he said.
Every year, builders in the U.S. spread an estimated 400 million gallons of Dursban around building foundations; 380 gallons of the pesticide is pumped into the ground under a 2000 square foot home. Both chemical and structural alternatives to chlorpyrifos are commonly available. Borates are a less toxic chemical applied in a dry form, and steel barriers and mesh shields are also laid under foundations to prevent infestation.
Within days of the revelation that EPA had made a private deal with Dow, the Natural Resources Defense Council sent EPA a letter co-signed by PANNA and many other environmental and health groups, urging the agency to follow its public process for pesticide registration. The letter called on EPA to immediately cease private negotiations with Dow, publish the company’s petition in the Federal Register and allow a period for public comment, and make public the underlying data that Dow relied upon.
“The EPA itself recently decided that Dursban was too toxic to use in residential settings,” said Susan Kegley of PANNA. “Doing an about face on this now shows just how deep the Bush philosophy of ‘If you don’t like the science, just ignore it’ permeates the EPA,” she said.
PANNA’s analysis earlier this year of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data on pesticides found in U.S. residents reports that metabolites of chlorpyrifos are nearly twice as high in children (age 6-11) than adults (See Chemical Trespass: Pesticides n Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability http://panna.org/campaigns/docsTrespass/chemicalTrespass2004.dv.html).
Also this year, a New York City study associated exposure to chlorpyrifos (and diazinon, another organophosphate insecticide commonly used in homes) with a significant decrease in infant birth weight. The study examined residential exposures of the two insecticides used to control termites and roaches. Children’s health specialist Dr. Robin M. Whyatt, principal author of the study, remarked, “We were surprised to see such a significant association between exposure to the pesticides and birth weight. There is no question that this is an instance where regulation worked, the EPA imposed a ban, and there was an immediate benefit.”
Unfortunately, EPA’s health-based phase-outs of residential uses of chlorpyrifos are not being applied in agricultural settings. Approximately 10 million pounds of the pesticide are used in agriculture each year, with farmworkers and their children at greatest risk. Shelly Davis of the Farmworker Justice Fund reports that chlorpyrifos consistently ranks as one of the most hazardous workplace poisons on the farm, poisoning hundreds of farmworkers and applicators every year. “When EPA phased out consumer uses of chlorpyrifos, and left most agricultural uses in place, they gave us half a loaf,” stated Davis. “What EPA needs to do is impose greater, not lesser, restrictions on all uses, so we’re going in the wrong direction here.”
Sources: Beyond Pesticides Press Release, December 20, 21, 2004, Scripts Howard News Service , Deadline Extended on Pesticide Phaseout, December 20, 2004; Washington Post , EPA May Lift Ban on Dow’s Termite Killer Dec 21, 2004; PANNA, Birth Weights Higher After Pesticide Ban, April 16, 2004; PANNA, Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability, May 2004.
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