On August 4, Senator Tom Udall and Representative Joe Neguse introduced proposed legislation — the “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act”, or (PACTPA). This bill would overhaul U.S. pesticide rules, ultimately mandating new rules to protect people and the environment.
PAN Senior Scientist Margaret Reeves says it best:
The science is crystal clear. These chemicals are putting our health, environment and food supply at risk and we must help farmers move away from them. Senator Udall’s bill puts science, public health and on-farm resilience over corporate profits — its passage is urgently needed and would finally put us on the right track.
Out with the old — FIFRA’s failings
Each year the United States uses over one billion pounds of pesticides — nearly a fifth of worldwide usage — and use levels continue to increase.
The current law governing U.S. pesticide regulations, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) contains provisions that prioritize pesticide industry interests above the health and safety of people and our environment.
Once approved, under FIFRA, pesticides typically remain on the market for decades, even after scientific evidence shows significant harm to people or the environment. This outdated law continues to support widespread application of pesticides by failing to respond to the real and measurable threats these chemicals pose:
- Organophosphate insecticides have been linked to neurodevelopmental damage in children and farmworker poisonings.
- Neonicotinoid insecticides contribute to pollinator collapse around the world and have recently been shown to cause developmental defects, heart deformations, and muscle tremors in unborn children.
- Paraquat is one of the most acutely toxic herbicides in the world. Science has shown that chronic exposure to paraquat increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 200% to 600%. It is already banned in 32 countries.
It is crystal clear that the current law is past its useful lifespan. It is past time to protect people, not chemical companies’ bottom lines.
In with the new — PACTPA’s potential
The proposed Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (full text here) addresses many of FIFRA’s shortcomings. This bill provides significant protections for frontline communities that bear the brunt of pesticide exposure, prohibits the use of old stockpiles of banned pesticides, and requires listing of inert ingredients on all pesticide products.
- Ban dangerous pesticides including organophosphate insecticides, neonicotinoid insecticides and paraquat herbicides;
- Close loopholes that have allowed the EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations to use pesticides even before they go through full health and safety reviews;
- Create a petition process for the people which will allow citizens to request review of pesticides that would otherwise be approved for use indefinitely;
- Support local community protective actions from preemption of veto by state law;
- Protect farmworkers from harm by requiring injury reports, directing EPA review of these reports, improved pesticide label instructions and requiring labels in Spanish and any other language that can be shown to have 500 or more applicators using that language; and
- Broaden the knowledge base by requiring suspension and review of pesticides deemed unsafe by Canada or the European Union.
We can, and must, do this
FIFRA puts new products on the market quickly, while making it difficult to remove dangerous products. PACTPA would begin to shift the needle toward a regulatory system that protects the people and the environment.
Comparable efforts in other countries show us that we can prioritize public health and the environment while building healthy food and farm systems. It is time for us to take a step forward — for people, workers, and our environment.