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Alliance Calls for Stronger Measures to Protect Human Health, Wildlife from Dangerous Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, June 21, 2011) More than 130 groups in 35 states, representing public health, food-security, sustainable-farming, farmworker and conservation interests called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use all the tools at its disposal to protect public health and imperiled wildlife from toxic pesticides. The June 16th letter to EPA, which was signed by Beyond Pesticides, cites significant flaws in the pesticide registration process. To see which conventional crops may be grown with pesticides linked to impacts on wildlife and human health, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience food guide.

“Pesticides pose a clear and preventable danger to our health and the environment. It’s time for EPA to ensure pesticides no longer jeopardize human health, wildlife, the water we drink or the air we breathe,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress must do its part by stopping legislation sponsored by chemical corporations and their allies to strip important laws that safeguard future generations, farmworkers and wildlife from pesticide harms.”

The groups cite undue pesticide industry influence over EPA’s pesticide decisions under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)—as well as documented pesticide impacts such as endocrine disruption, cancers and reproductive disorders for humans and wildlife—in requesting increased protections from harmful pesticide use. Specifically, the groups urge EPA to use the “rigorous scientific review process and strong legal protections” of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“The pesticide industry has subverted the intended protections of U.S. pesticide law under FIFRA. That law is broken. If enforced, the ESA offers strong protections for our most endangered wildlife, with human health benefits because it requires a more rigorous scientific review process less susceptible to industry influence,” said Heather Pilatic, PhD, co-director of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). “Current independent science indicates that the low-level mixtures of pesticides to which we are all exposed contribute to children’s rising rates of neurodevelopmental disease and certain cancers, and impact the biodiversity that keeps our planet resilient.”

Pesticide use in the United States is regulated primarily under FIFRA, a 1947 labeling law that was last significantly updated 40 years ago and has been subject to major pesticide industry and farm-lobby influence. The ESA is a stronger statute that requires formal consultation with federal wildlife agencies to assess pesticide impacts and develop measures to avoid harm to endangered species. The EPA has completed very few of these consultations. The Clean Water Act (CWA) also regulates pesticide pollution by requiring federal permits for discharges of contaminants that enter waterways, including pesticides. A bill currently under consideration in the Senate, however, would exempt pesticides from the CWA.

In January, the Center for Biological Diversity and PANNA filed the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the ESA to protect imperiled wildlife from pesticides. The suit seeks to compel the EPA to evaluate the impacts of hundreds of the most dangerous pesticides known to be harmful to more than 200 endangered and threatened species. The process would yield common-sense restrictions on some of the most harmful pesticides and safeguard human health (including for farmworkers and their families), drinking water and wildlife.

More than a billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the U.S., and EPA has registered more than 18,000 different pesticides for use. Scientific studies show widespread and pervasive pesticide contamination in groundwater, drinking water and wildlife habitats throughout the country. Farmers, farmworkers and their families, and rural communities face higher rates of Parkinson’s disease, many cancers, autoimmune disorders, neurodevelopmental problems and a host of other pesticide-linked diseases.

“Our regulatory system allows for the continued poisoning of farmworkers and wildlife, as well as long-term health impacts on consumers and rural families, despite the availability of alternatives,” said Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides executive director. “With organic methods proven viable in the marketplace, it’s time to ban pesticides linked to cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders and other devastating diseases.” Learn more about specific diseases linked to pesticide exposure in Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.

Through pesticide drift and runoff, pesticides can travel far from the areas where they are applied and into sensitive wildlife habitats. Some contaminated waterways are regularly subjected to toxic pulses of combinations of pesticides deadly to fish and other life. Pesticides are a particular threat to endangered species, biological diversity and pollinating insects and bats.

For decades EPA has consistently failed to engage in required consultations to properly evaluate whether pesticides it registers are harmful to imperiled species. In 2004, the Center published Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species, detailing EPA’s dismal record in protecting endangered species from pesticides. Lawsuits by conservation groups have forced EPA to assess pesticide impacts on some endangered species, primarily in California, and resulted in temporary restrictions on pesticide use in sensitive habitats. In complying with court-ordered evaluations, EPA has concurred that nearly every pesticide at issue is “likely to adversely affect” the at-risk species.

An example of the EPA failure to protect people and the environment is the controversial re-registration of the dangerous herbicide atrazine, a widespread pollutant of groundwater and drinking water that has been banned in the European Union. Atrazine chemically castrates male frogs at extremely low concentrations. Recent research also links atrazine to birth defects and endocrine disruption in humans, as well as significant harm to wildlife.

See an interactive map of endangered species threatened by pesticide use and read the letter sent to EPA.


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