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Two Lawsuits Charge EPA With Failure to Protect Children from Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, September 16, 2003) On September 15, 2003, the Attorneys General from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to protect children from the risks of eating food containing excessive pesticide residues. The lawsuit focuses on five pesticides widely used on crops often consumed by children, but notes that the EPA has failed to set residue standards, as required by the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), at levels safe for children on many other pesticides as well. A coalition of public interest groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) also filed a similar suit against EPA yesterday in the same court.

"Parents reasonably expect that every effort has been made by the federal government to ensure that pesticide residues in the food they give their children are safe," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "This is not always the case. Sadly, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to meet Congressional requirements to protect children from the risks of consuming food with unhealthy pesticide residues." The New York Attorney General has analyzed and participated in the on-going regulatory review process at the EPA and determined that a number of pesticides were approved by the EPA without the mandatory stringent safety margin required to protect children's health. The five pesticides specifically targeted by the state attorney generals' lawsuit, alachlor, chlorothalonil, methomyl, metribuzin, and thiodicarb, are found on food that is frequently consumed by children, according to EPA's own data. These crops include: apples, bananas, broccoli, carrots, corn, oats, oranges, peaches, peanuts, potatoes, soybeans, squash, sugar cane, tomatoes and wheat.

Children are far more susceptible to harm from pesticide residue on food because of their developing bodies and different diets. Children consume more food for their size than adults and their immature metabolic functions cannot deal with the toxicity of pesticide residues. "The EPA's failure to protect children from poisonous pesticides is unconscionable and unlawful. It makes everyday foods potential poison trap," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumental. "Pesticides kill pests because they disrupt and destroy vital life systems - and can have the same toxic effects on children if their residues remain on food." Prior to 1996, the EPA's limits on allowable food pesticide residues were based solely on data on adults. Congress unanimously passed FQPA in 1996 to change this practice and required EPA to ensure that pesticide residues are safe for children. FQPA directs EPA to set pesticide residue standards ten times stricter than those considered acceptable for adults. This tougher standard can be waived only when there is comprehensive scientific information showing that a lesser standard is still safe for children.

In their suit against EPA, NRDC is joined by Pesticide Action Network North America, the Breast Cancer Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility, New York Public Interest Research Group, Farmworker Legal Services of New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Neighborhood Network Research Center, Citizens' Environmental Coalition, the Mid-Hudson Catskill Rural and Migrant Ministry, and Environmental Advocates of New York. The lawsuit charges that EPA has violated the law by: failing to use a tenfold infant and child protection safety factor; failing to protect highly vulnerable or highly exposed people, including farmworkers' children and other children living on or near farms, who are far more heavily exposed to pesticides than average children; and relying on a confidential, proprietary, industry-developed computer model to determine pesticide risks.

"President Bush says his administration will leave no child behind," said Erik Olson, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the lead plaintiff in the coalition suit. "But his administration is apparently more interested in the health of the chemical industry than the health of our children. Republicans and Democrats unanimously passed this law to protect our kids from pesticides, but the Bush administration won't enforce it."

A year ago, EPA's independent scientific review panel on pesticides, called the Scientific Advisory Panel, found that the agency erred by failing to apply the tenfold safety factor when reviewing the cumulative risks of organophosphate insecticides, which are among the most dangerous pesticides on the market. Beyond Pesticides covered this story in the July 29, 2002 edition of Daily News.

For information on the lawsuit by the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, contact Marc Violette (N.Y.) at 518-473-5525, Paul Loriquet (N.J.) at 609-292 4791, Maura Fitzgerald (Ct.) at 860-808-5324, or Sarah Nathan (Mass.) at 617 727-2543.

For information on the NRDC lawsuit, contact Erik Olson, Aaron Colangelo or Elliott Negin at 202-289-6868.

Beyond Pesticides has long criticized EPA for not adequately protecting children's health and applauds the states and organizations for filing suit against the agency. For more information on protecting children from the toxic hazards of pesticides, see Beyond Pesticides' Children and Schools webpage.