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EPA Allows Continued Use of 31 Toxic Organophosphate Pesticides

After a decade-long review, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to allow continued use of 31 agricultural pesticides, concluding cumulative exposure does not pose a health risk.

Although the potential danger of the chemicals, organophosphates, has been assessed individually over the years - and in some cases their use curtailed - this was the first time the EPA examined the chemicals' risk as a group.

They are used extensively in agriculture to control pests on fruits, vegetables and other crops. They have been targeted by environmentalists who argue they pose a health risk, especially to children. They have been linked to cancer and neurological and fertility problems.

Some health advocates and environmentalists say all of the chemicals should be replaced with safer alternatives.

Two of the organophosphates - diazonin and chlorpyrifos, once widely used to control ants and fleas - are banned for residential use. Seventeen organophosphates were taken off the market during the 10-year review. But diazonin, chlorpyrifos and 29 others may still be used in agriculture, the EPA said.

In a July 31 memorandum, the EPA concluded "the cumulative risks associated with exposures to all of the [31 chemicals] ... meet the safety risk standard" under the federal food-protection law.

Continued use of the pesticides "represents an egregious abandonment of EPA's mission to protect the health and well-being of children, farmworkers and rural residents," said Margaret Reeves, a scientist at the Pesticide Action Network, a San Francisco advocacy group.

Meanwhile, the EPA said it was ordering the liquid form of an insecticide, carbofuran, off the market, a decision hailed by environmentalists because it has killed millions of birds over the years. Its granular form was banned in the mid-1990s.

Under a 1996 food-safety law the EPA was charged with re-examining all of the pesticides it regulates to determine if they pose an unacceptable health risk to children or other vulnerable population groups.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company