Friday, December 19, 2003

Pesticides: Unsafe at Any Speed

During my early AFSCME days, I became fascinated -- in a horrified sort of way -- with pesticide regulation -- that is, how poorly pesticides in this country were tested and regulated.

Aside from chemical warfare, pesticide application is the only human activity where poisons are intentionally sprayed on the earth, plants, bugs, animals, and people. By definition, pesticides are poisons, and one thing I discovered in my travels through the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was that it was actually illegal to advertise a pesticide as safe, "safe when used as directed" or any variation on that theme.

Clearly, if you read pesticide advertisements, no one really takes this prohibition seriously, until modern day corporate enemy number one (and New York Attorney General) Eliot Spitzer decided that it was time to resurrect the idea that poisons are not good for people, even when they're licensed by the EPA to kill evil bugs.
A subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. will pay a $2 million fine for making illegal safety claims in advertising of its pesticides, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Monday.

The penalty involving the popular Dursban and other pesticides is the largest in the nation's history, he said.

"By misleading consumers about the potential dangers associated with the use of their products, Dow's ads may have endangered human health and the environment by encouraging people to use their products without proper care," Spitzer said.
What was Dow's crime?
Among the advertised claims cited by Spitzer was: "No significant adverse health effects will likely result from exposures to Dursban even at levels substantially above those expected to occur when applied at label rates."

Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Department of Community and Preventative Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, who was involved in the study, said that claim was false.

"Excellent studies conducted by independent scientists have clearly shown that chlorpyrifos, the active ingredient in Dursban, is toxic to the human brain and nervous system and is especially dangerous to the developing brain of infants," Landrigan said.
Dow agreed to pay the $2 million penalty, but admitted no illegal or erroneous advertising.