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Take Action: EPA Proposes Expansion of Neurotoxic Pyrethroid Uses

(Beyond Pesticides, January 31, 2012) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed an expansion in pyrethrins/pyrethroid insecticide uses as part of its cumulative risk assessment for this neurotoxic class of chemicals. In the cumulative risk assessment, EPA concludes that pyrethroids “do not pose risk concerns for children or adults,” ignoring a wealth of independent data that links this class of chemicals to certain cancers, respiratory and reproductive problems, and the onset of insect resistance. It went as far as to state that its cumulative assessment supports consideration of registering additional new uses of these pesticides, potentially opening the flood gates for manufacturers to bombard the market with more pyrethroid pesticides, endangering the health of the public. The agency is accepting public comments through February 8, 2012. Tell EPA that it has ignored numerous health effects and that these pesticides do pose unacceptable risks to human health given the availability of alternatives. Submit comments directly to the EPA docket or sign-on to Beyond Pesticides’ comments.

In its comments to EPA, Beyond Pesticides states:

There are several major concerns and flaws plaguing this cumulative assessment, which therefore does not meet the regulatory burden in fully evaluating synthetic pyrethroids’ effect on public and environmental health. We are troubled that EPA’s analysis and conclusions allow the expanded use of synthetic pyrethroids, despite the known adverse effects associated with exposures and the high degree of uncertainty associated with multiple adverse endpoints. The most egregious conclusion of this assessment is the reduction of the FQPA safety factor from 10x to 3x for children under six years of age and 1X for persons over six years old, including pregnant women. Given that some members of this chemical class are probable carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, and may suppress the immune system, endpoints that EPA has not sufficiently taken into consideration, it is not appropriate for the agency to reduce the FQPA safety factor at this time. The agency further states that cumulative estimated risks from existing pyrethroid uses are not of concern, and that there is sufficient room in the pyrethroid cumulative ‘risk cup’ to support consideration of new pyrethroids and new uses. The agency violates its statutory duty under the “unreasonable adverse effect” provision of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in welcoming the proliferation of this class of insecticides when it has been shown to be associated with a host of acute and chronic health problems, and the contamination of homes and terrestrial and aquatic environments. Not fully evaluated in the assessment is the rise of insect resistance to the chemicals, inevitable with elevated use and exposure.

One of the most troubling aspects of EPA’s risk assessment is its decision to reduce the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) protective safety factor from 10X (an additional margin of safety of 10 times) to 1X for children and adults over six years, and to 3X for children under six years of age. The FQPA safety factor is intended to protect infants and children to account for their special vulnerability to pesticides, taking into account the potential for pre- and post-natal toxicity. Given that children are especially sensitive to the effects of synthetic pyrethroids like permethrin, this reduction in the special safety factor is egregious. Studies have found that certain pyrethoids like permethrin are almost five times more toxic to the young compared to adults, and in sensitive individuals the difference is even greater. Additionally, studies have shown that permethrin may inhibit neonatal brain development. In this new cumulative risk assessment, the agency even states, “Based on pharmacokinetic data, there is evidence that indicates an increase in sensitivity to pyrethroids of the young compared to adults,” which is attributed to the difference in the ability of the adults and juveniles to metabolize pyrethroids. EPA’s modeling data also predict a 3-fold increase of pyrethroid concentrations in juvenile brains compared to adults. Similarly, researchers at Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a published study conclude that residential pesticide use represents the most important risk factor for children’s exposure to pyrethroid insecticides. Despite all this, EPA chooses to forgo this evidence and green light more uses of pyrethroid chemicals which will inevitably impact more vulnerable children.

With the phase-out of most residential uses of the common organophosphate insecticides, home use of pyrethroids has increased. Pesticide products containing synthetic pyrethroids are often described by pest control operators and community mosquito management bureaus as “safe as chrysanthemum flowers.” While pyrethroids are a synthetic version of an extract from the chyrsanthemum plant, they are chemically engineered to be more toxic, take longer to break down, and are often formulated with synergists, increasing potency, and compromising the human body’s ability to detoxify the pesticide.

As a consequence of their widespread use, many pests -such as bed bugs- are now becoming resistant to pyrethroids. A recent study shows that modern bed bugs have developed the ability to defend themselves against pyrethroid pesticides, with a required dosage of as much as 1,000 times the amount that should normally be lethal, due in part to the widespread use of such treatment methods. Due to the ability of these organisms to develop resistance to chemical agents, exposing these bugs to more pesticides would lead to higher rates of resistance among insect populations, a point that EPA does not acknowledge.

EPA is mandated to complete cumulative risk assessments for chemicals that have the same mechanism of toxicity. In 2009, EPA conceded that pyrethroid chemicals did in fact have a common mechanism of toxicity. In this risk assessment, not all pyrethroids were evaluated and various routes of exposures, such as dermal and inhalation exposures, were not adequately examined, with the agency stating that these exposures “generally do not significantly contribute to the overall risk picture,” even though numerous pyrethroid formulations of ‘apply to skin’ mosquito repellent and indoor bug sprays are widely available.

Pyrethroids are a widely used class of insecticides used for mosquito control and various insects in residential and agricultural settings. This class of chemicals includes permethrin, bifenthrin, resmethrin, cyfluthrin and scores of others. Exposure to synthetic pyrethroids has been reported to lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritation, and skin sensations. There are also serious chronic health concerns related to synthetic pyrethroids. EPA classifies permethrin and cypermethrin as possible human carcinogens, based on evidence of lung tumors in lab animals exposed to these chemicals. EPA also lists permethrin as a suspected endocrine disruptor. Synthetic pyrethroids have also been linked to respiratory problems such as hypersensitization, and may be triggers for asthma attacks. Material Safety Data Sheets, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for pyrethroid products often warn, “Persons with history of asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory tract disorders may experience symptoms at low exposures.” Pyrethroids are persistent and are making their way into human bodies at alarming rates. CDC ‘s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals reports that widely used pyrethroids are found in greater than 50% of the subjects tested.

In addition to human health effects, which this cumulative risk assessment addresses, pyrethroids are also persistent in the environment and adversely impact non-target organisms. A 2008 survey found pyrethroid contamination in 100 percent of urban streams sampled in California. Researchers also find pyrethroid residues in California streams, although at relatively low concentrations (10-20 parts per trillion) in river and creek sediments that are toxic to bottom dwelling fish. Other studies find pyrethroids present in effluent from sewage treatment plants at concentrations just high enough to be toxic to sensitive aquatic organisms.

At the same time, there are clear established methods for managing homes and schools that prevent infestation of unwanted insects without the use of synthetic chemicals, including exclusion techniques, sanitation and maintenance practices, as well as mechanical and least toxic controls (which include boric acid and diatomaceous earth). Based on the host of health effects linked to this chemical class, an increase in synthetic pyrethroid use is hazardous and unnecessary.

Take Action: Tell EPA that more uses of pyrethroids is hazardous and unnecessary. Submit comments directly to EPA’s docket or sign onto Beyond Pesticides’ comments by signing this petition. We will include all organizational sign-ons when we submit the comments to EPA and keep all signatories in the loop on this issue.


5 Responses to “Take Action: EPA Proposes Expansion of Neurotoxic Pyrethroid Uses”

  1. 1
    Don Hoernschmeyer Says:

    Fetal, infant, and childrens’ freedom from exposure to toxic chemicals, such as pyrethroids, is so important that the 10X factor must be retaines.
    Re-evaluate EPA’s proposal.

  2. 2
    Don Hoernschmeyer Says:

    I have searched the document, Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, and can find no mention of a statement that “widely used pyrethroids are found in greater than 50% of the subjects tested.”
    Please tell me where in the CDC report your quote can be found.
    Thank you

  3. 3
    Patricia Smith Says:

    I was poisoned by bifenthrin and it has destroyed my health and left me with a long list of neuro/immune/endocrine issues. The product that harmed me cannot be used in barns with livestock. How was this product ever allowed to be used in an office? If it can alter the hormones of bulls I am pretty sure I am not being an alarmist when I say it should not be used near people. The EPA seems to have a history of replacing one poison with another. Pyrethroids are not as safe as a flower. Pyrethroids are synthetic substances that are formulated to be more toxic and more persistent. Bifenthrin is by far the most toxic of the pyrethroids and is likely most toxic by the inhalation route. You won’t find that info on the label or the MSDS. I am angry beyond words at the poor testing and loose regulation of these highly toxic, and even fatal, substances.

  4. 4
    James Young Says:

    I too was exposed to Talstar by a local pest control company back in 2008. They came in once a month to spray and we where told that they would be using a new and much safer product. This was the first week of October of 2008. We stayed in our home for two days and I had issues with throat irritation.

    We left for South Padre Island for two months after they had sprayed the house. I noticed I starting sweating profusely for days after being in south Texas for a couple of weeks. We returned on the first day of December and when I opened the house I could not breath. I thought it was dust even though we have a maid service. The pest control company came back that week and sprayed again. This is when all hell broke loose for me.

    After he sprayed and left the house, the heat came on and I could not even stay in the house. I opened all of the windows and cleared out most of the vapors. For the next two months I had night sweats,severe fatigue and felt like I had the flu just without the fever, just a blah kind of feeling.My partner kept saying I was depressed, but I knew I was not. I went to my Dr. and he did a complete metabolic test on me. He tested for everything from A to Z . I was 38 at the time and my testosterone level was the lowest he had ever seen for someone my age. I was put on patches for the testosterone.

    I called the pest control company and told them not to spray again. They did the first of February. I was so mad , my Dr. thought I was crazy when I told him all of this so he sent me to a endocrinologist . Waste of time because her answer was to move out of the house. I came home and slept in the sunroom for a week. I was burning , had insomnia, vomiting and felt like I was dying. My partner never had any symptoms until later that summer.

    This completely ruined my life, I lost my business, I am taking 60 mgs of Adderall daily, 30 mgs of Valium, and 4 mgs of Xanax a day. I tried four SSRI’s and all caused me to swell and breakout in a rash. Shortly after the last exposure, I wrecked 2 trucks in less than a month. This was before I was on all of this medicine crap. If I do not take the Adderall, I can not even concentrate enough to drive, watch TV and absorb what I am watching and forget reading a book.

    This year in March, my partner had respiratory failure while in Memphis. He started having breathing issues in 2008 near the 4th of July. He was hospitalized for three months, rehab for two months and is finally getting over the whole issue.

    I am in full agreement with Patricia Smith. It ruined my life. It basically has caused me to be dependent on drugs and Hormone replacement. Who knows what the future holds for me now. I am finally glad to have somewhere to tell my story where people do not think I am crazy, even though I fell crazy sometimes.

  5. 5
    James Young Says:

    Talstar’s primary ingredient is Bifenthrin. I am also seeing a psychiatrist (out of pocket) every three months. So far the meds are the best thing at helping me cope with all of the issues related to my incident. After all this started, I laid on our couch for five months, I still have sweating spells and I will take a Xanax or a half of one which makes the sweating stop almost immediately.

    I was an self employed Electrician , but I got so tired very quickly from even really small jobs and also tired of people asking me if I was ill because any large amount of movement makes me sweat like crazy.

    I have gone up and down on my benzo levels, slowly tapering down the amounts, but it seems I always end up at the current level. Some days I will take 10 Mgs and others 40 and less Xanax. It is a Roller coaster physically and emotionally.

    What I worry about most of all is tolerance to the meds. I am sure it will happen at some point since I have been on them over 4 years. Then what ?

    Just wondering how Mrs. Smith copes with her symptoms. Maybe I am going about this all wrong,but it works for now. It is the closest to “normal” I have found that works for my symptoms.

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