Thursday, May 25, 2006

EPA Scientists Accuse Agency of Exerting Political Pressure To Continue Use of Harmful Pesticides

Shocked, shocked that the pesticide and chemical industries are directing EPA rulemaking.

Environmental Protection Agency scientists are accusing EPA managers of exerting political pressure to allow the continued use of harmful pesticides, and that decisions are being made only with the approval of the regulated industries. In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, union leaders wrote:
Our colleagues in the Pesticide Program feel besieged by political pressure exerted by Agency officials perceived to be too closely aligned with the pesticide industry and former EPA officials now representing the pesticide and agricultural community; and by the USDA through their Office of Pest Management Policy. Equally alarming is the belief among managers in the Pesticide and Toxics Programs that regulatory decisions should only be made after reaching full consensus with the regulated pesticide and chemicals industry.
Three unions representing 9,000 scientists, risk managers and other specialists (the American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union and Engineers and Scientists of California)object to the imminent approval of 20 organophosphate and carbamate pesticides.

According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which released the letter:
Organophosphates, derived from World War II-era nerve agents, are banned in England, Sweden and Denmark. In the 1990’s the National Academies of Science criticized EPA’s regulation of these pesticides. The Clinton administration began moves to ban the agents but the Bush administration changed course. In the past few months, the Bush administration approach has been faulted by both EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Panel and its Office of Inspector General.
The letter notes that the EPA's Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP)
has expressed concern that the Pesticide Program’s current approaches may not be sufficiently conservative, may underestimate the risks to infants and children, and do not adequately identify individuals that may be inherently sensitive to neurotoxicants.
The letter also cites an EPA Inspector General report that states that
EPA’s risk assessments cannot state with confidence the degree to which any exposure of a fetus, infant or child to a pesticide will or will not adversely affect their neurological development.
The letter makes three requests:
  • That decisions be based on the "Precautionary Principle" where data is inadequate. (The Precautionary Principle calls for government intervention before harm occurs.)

  • That the agency retain a "10-fold safety factor" where there are no studies on the effect of the pesticides on the brain development of fetus's and infants.

  • That maximum protections - engineering controls for handlers and longer re-entry intervals for postapplication labor- be put into place for agricultural uses of these pesticides; where this is not feasible, cancel these registrations, as EPA promised before.
The Wall St. Journal calls the letter "unprecedented and a professional rebuke to Mr. Johnson, himself a scientist and former assistant administrator in charge of the agency's program to test the harmful effects of pesticides." The Journal reports that,
EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said the agency "has been reviewing all pesticides in question and applying new, stricter standards as required under the Food Quality Protection Act, with a specific focus on their effects on children's health." The agency had no specific response to the union leaders' assertions. Spokesmen for groups representing the pesticide industry didn't immediately return phone calls.