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EPA Proposes New Pesticide Labeling to Control Spray Drift

(Beyond Pesticides, November 5, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rolled out proposed guidance for new pesticide labeling in an effort to reduce off-target spray and dust drift. According to EPA, the actions detailed in the draft Pesticide Registration (PR) Notice on Pesticide Drift Labeling, when implemented, are projected to help improve the clarity and consistency of pesticide labels and help prevent harm from spray drift. The agency is also requesting comment on a petition to evaluate children’s exposure to pesticide drift.

Last month, a petition filed by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice asked EPA to set safety standards protecting children who grow up near farms from the harmful effects of pesticide drift. The groups also asked the agency to adopt an immediate no-spray buffer zone around homes, schools, parks and daycare centers for the most dangerous and drift-prone pesticides.

According to the agency, the new instructions are said to prohibit drift that could cause “adverse health or environmental effects,” by evaluating scientific information on risk and exposure based on individual product use patterns on a pesticide-by-pesticide basis. These assessments will help the agency determine whether no-spray buffer zones or other measures, such as restrictions on droplet or particle size, nozzle height, or weather conditions, are needed to protect people, wildlife, water resources, schools and other sensitive sites from potential harm.

“The new labels will carry more uniform and specific directions on restricting spray drift while giving pesticide applicators clear and workable instructions,” says Steve Owens, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

The draft PR Notice contains:

1. A general drift statement that varies according to product type. The general drift statement prohibits drift that could cause an adverse effect to people or any other non-target organism or site.

2. Examples of risk-based, product-specific drift use restrictions, along with formats for presenting these statements on product labeling. On a pesticide-by-pesticide basis, based on individual product use patterns, EPA will evaluate scientific information on risk and exposure from pesticide drift. These assessments will help the agency determine whether product-specific use restrictions are needed to protect people, wildlife, water resources, schools, or other sensitive sites from potential harm. These restrictions could include no-spray buffer zones, or requirements related to droplet or particle size, nozzle height, or weather conditions at the time of application.

3. Guidance to applicants and registrants about the process for implementing the new statements and formats on product labeling.

The agency believes the use of these statements and formats on labels will provide users with more consistent, understandable, and enforceable directions about how to protect human health and the environment from harm that might result from off-target pesticide drift.

EPA does not intend to apply the guidance in this PR Notice to fumigant products, which are among the most toxic chemicals used in agriculture. Fumigants are gases or liquids that are injected or dripped into the soil to sterilize a field before planting. Even with plastic tarps on the soil, fumigants escape from the soil and drift through the air into schools, homes, parks and playgrounds. Strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, carrots and potatoes are some of the major crops for which fumigant use is high. Earlier this year, EPA announced its decision to allow continued use of toxic soil fumigants with modified safety measures, falling far short of safety advocate efforts to adopt more stringent use restrictions and chemical bans, and requiring a “buffer zone” which advocates criticized as being severely limited and questioned its enforceability.

The guidance is also not intended to apply to products labeled solely for indoor use, fully-enclosed greenhouses, and animal treatments, or for products formulated as gels or baits or labeled solely for direct application to people, such as skin-applied insect repellents. It also does not apply to mosquito adulticide products labeled for wide-area application by ground or aerial equipment, such as Ultra Low Volume (ULV) sprays or fogs. The guidance does, however, apply to home and garden use products which may list mosquitoes on the label, and/or to coarse non-ULV sprays intended for residual treatment of vegetation or other surfaces.

Pesticides can volatilize into the gaseous state and be transported over long distances fairly rapidly through wind and rain. Documented exposure patterns resulting from drift, causes particular concerns for children and other sensitive population groups, as adverse health effects, such as nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches, rashes, and mental disorientation, may appear even when a pesticide is applied according to label directions. For more information on pesticide drift, read Beyond Pesticides’ report Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass: Pesticide drift hits homes, schools and other sensitive sites throughout communities.

Take Action: EPA is seeking comment on a draft pesticide drift labeling interpretation document that provides guidance to state and tribal enforcement officials. A second document provides background information on pesticide drift, a description of current and planned EPA actions, a reader’s guide explaining key terms and concepts, and specific questions on which EPA is seeking input. These documents and further information are available in docket EPA–HQ–OPP–2009–0628 at http://www.regulations.gov.

In a second Federal Register notice, EPA is also requesting comment on a petition filed recently by environmental and farm worker organizations. The petitioners ask EPA to evaluate children’s exposure to pesticide drift and to adopt, on an interim basis, requirements for “no-spray” buffer zones near homes, schools, day-care centers, and parks. EPA will evaluate this new petition and take whatever action may be appropriate after the evaluation is complete. For further information and to submit comments, please see docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0825 at http://www.regulations.gov.

Source: EPA Press Release


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