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Data Quality Act Hamstrings Pesticide Regulation
(Beyond Pesticides, August 18, 2004)
A little known law called the Data Quality Act has become a powerful tool for industry to attack scientific evidence showing harm to human health or the environment caused by pesticides, according to the Washington Post.

Under the Bush administration the Data Quality Act has essentially provided industry with a mechanism to enable significant scientific evidence to be disregarded in the risk assessment process of a pesticide.

The Act was passed when President Bill Clinton signed it into law by signing a 712-page Government Appropriations Act in December 2000, according to the Post. The Data Quality Act is just two sentences long and was slipped into the huge spending bill by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo) without being discussed or debated in congress. Jim Tozzi, industry lobbyist and author of the Act happily admits to the Post that he intentionally slipped the two lines into the Appropriations Bill clandestinely and without congressional knowledge. The Act directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure the "quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information" disseminated by the Federal agencies.

"Science is ever evolving and often hobbled by uncertainty, but policymakers have long recognized this and relied on weight-of-evidence arguments in making regulations, according to [University of Texas Law School Professor Thomas] McGarity, other activists and Clinton administration officials. They point out that DDT was banned despite lingering doubts about its role in the decline of birds. Many other substances, including vinyl chloride and asbestos, also were regulated before their full effects were known," reads the Post article.

Interpretation of the Act has so far been biased in favor of industry and has contributed to the politicization of science. Research conducted by the Washington Post revealed that in the first 20 months after implementation, 32 out of 39 petitions were filed by industry, business, or trade organizations or their lobbyists. Only 7 were filed by environmental or citizen groups. Of the 5 Data Quality petitions that have been successful so far, all were filed by industry groups (5 others were denied, 5 diverted, and 24 are pending). The petitions filed under the Data Quality Act are primarily used by industry to stall or reduce regulation of their products.

The Act demands that the government only act upon or use data that display an extremely high level of certainly and a lack of conflict- something rarely seen coming out of the scientific community. Such demands enable some completely valid scientific information and studies to be disregarded where in the recent past they may have lead to tighter regulations. Essentially, it means that if industry can find or sponsor studies that do not support dangers related to a chemical found by other independent scientists, they can discredit those claims by creating conflict within the body of evidence.

Atrazine is one example of a pesticide registration that has benefited from the Data Quality Act. The Act was used to dismiss claims that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor, despite the heavy weight-of-evidence linking atrazine to endocrine disruption. Endocrine disruptors are also linked to developmental and reproductive problems, several cancers and other illnesses. Jim Tozzi, author of the Data Quality Act, filed a petition under the Act in 2002 while working with Syngenta, the largest manufacturer of atrazine, that resulted in EPA concluding that endocrine disruption cannot be regarded a "legitimate regulatory endpoint at this time,"and therefore, not a sufficient reason to restrict a chemical's use.

Tozzi's petition enabled valid scientific studies published in several peer-reviewed journals, which show the endocrine disrupting effects of atrazine in amphibians, to be disregarded in EPA's assessment. The studies, conducted by Tyrone Hayes, a professor at University of California Berkeley, and speaker at last year's Beyond Pesticides National Pesticide Forum, have repeatedly shown the propensity of extremely low levels (0.1 ppb) of atrazine to result in hermaphroditic frogs with both sex organs, both in the lab and in the wild.

Tozzi's petition also claimed that EPA did not have any concrete guidelines in place that would facilitate the regulation of chemicals based on endocrine disruption. As a result, EPA agreed that the lack of such tests meant they could not regulate atrazine - or ANY chemical - as a hormone disruptor until such tests are in place.

"EPA cannot wait for those assays in order to take action on atrazine and other chemicals. Believe me, because of the complexity of the endocrine system and the speed at which governments operate, we will be lucky if we have one crude assay ready for use in the next 5 years," says noted scientist and author, Theo Colborn.

Read the Washington Post article here.

See the Washington Post timeline of atrazine regulation.

TAKE ACTION: Insist that EPA consider endocrine disruptor concerns and weight-of-evidence data in the regulation of pesticides. Contact Mr. Michael Leavitt, EPA Administrator, by email: leavitt.michael@epa.gov, phone: 202-564-4711, or fax: 202-501-1470. Keep track of Beyond Pesticides Watchdogging the Government issue page to view our Action Alerts and stay informed about recent EPA risk assessments that are open for public comment.