EPA Downplays Pesticide Dangers

EPA OKs safety of many pesticides when combined

JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer Tuesday, June 11, 2002

(06-1-021) WASHINGTON (AP) --

The Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on the safety of all but
two of 30 pesticides it studied to see whether they are unreasonably
dangerous to human health when combined.

EPA Assistant Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said reviewing the cumulative
risks of organophosphorus pesticides gave the agency general confidence in
the safety of the nation's food supply.

But Johnson, who oversees the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic
Substances, said dichlorvos, or DDVP, which is used in pest strips in homes,
and dimethoate, which is sprayed on dozens of fruits and vegetables, could
cause headaches, nausea, weakness, even death.

"If it turns out that our concerns are valid, we will need to take action,"
Johnson said of the two chemicals. "Banning them certainly is one of the

The findings were issued late Monday, just hours after a federal appeals
court in Washington turned back the third pesticide industry attempt to bar
them from being made public. Industry officials did not immediately return
phone calls for comment.

Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York-based environmental group
whose lawsuit prompted the review, said the EPA had ignored some of the
biggest health risks from the chemicals and failed to adequately consider
all of the threats to children.

Over the past several years, EPA has reviewed all but five of 49
organophosphorus pesticides. Fourteen have been or will be taken off the
market. EPA contends the five for which it didn't consider the cumulative
risks posed little threat to human health.

But NRDC disagrees, saying EPA didn't study for any of the pesticides other
non-dietary routes of exposure like airborne drifts from spraying and the
more frequent contact that about 1 million farm kids have with the

"When all the facts come in, it will become clear that EPA must take much
more aggressive action against these poisons," said Erik D. Olson, an NRDC
senior attorney in Washington. "Kids are exposed more, and are more
vulnerable to the toxic effects of organophosphates."

Johnson said, however, EPA believes almost all the uses of the
organophosphates that are remaining "pose virtually no risk to anyone,
particularly to children."

The EPA's review resulted from a settlement in a 1999 case brought by NRDC,
environmentalists and farm workers, who challenged a missed deadline for
reviewing the most dangerous pesticides, including those used in foods most
eaten by children.

Industry groups had hoped the Bush administration would withdraw from the
settlement, which was reached on President Clinton's last full day in the
White House but since upheld twice, by federal district and appeals courts
in San Francisco.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman also looked over the settlement, decided
it was fair, defended it in court and went ahead with the review.

It is the first time federal regulators have studied how an entire class of
chemicals might react with each other and be hazardous in the human body.
The review excluded data from controversial human testing by industry, since
EPA is temporarily banning its consideration pending a National Academy of
Sciences' analysis of the subject due a year from now.

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