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Daily News Archive
From December 22, 2005                                                                                                           

Debate Over Pesticide Exemptions Heats Up In Florida
(Beyond Pesticides, December 22, 2005) In Florida eyebrows are being raised as more and more pesticides are being used on unapproved crops as a result of Section 18 exemptions. Sections 18 exemptions allow for the use of pesticides on crops they are not approved for in the event of a “non-routine emergency.” In order to be granted exemption the EPA requires that the grower be able to prove that the emergency is non-routine and that no pesticide registered for their crop would work. The guidelines require that the pest is new and not prevalent in the United States, a threat to humans or an endangered species, or the potential cause of significant economic loss.

Critics of Section 18 exemptions, including many environmental groups, believe that exemptions put public and environmental safety at risk and help only the chemical companies. Many groups and activists have found fault with the system, pointing out that so called “urgent non-routine situations” are occurring enough times to be considered routine. Others accuse the Department of Agriculture of not inspecting the application of approved pesticides well enough. The Palm Beach Post claims that the Florida Department of Agriculture has records that show it working together with growers to obtain exemptions. Some of the records even show agreements allowing the exclusion of unfavorable information that could jeopardize the acquisition of a Section 18 exemption.

Aaron Colangelo, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), commented, “These Section 18's are a way to permit unlawful pesticide use…It's got such an innocuous name: Section 18. It's hard to build public awareness about something named Section 18."

One major concern that critics have with Section 18 exemptions is the effect that it will have on the “risk cup.” A risk cup is the analogy used by the EPA to help determine which pesticides are registered for use on which crops. According to the EPA website “A full cup represents the amount of pesticide that a person could receive every day for 70 years without significant health risk.” When determining pesticide registration the EPA considers how much people are likely to consume of various crops. The EPA might not register one pesticide with two crops that are both highly consumed in order to reduce the amount of exposure a person is likely to get in a lifetime. Section 18 exemptions are problematic because they ignore the risk cup, allowing crops to be treated with non-approved pesticides. This increases the amount of exposure to a certain pesticide to levels that even the EPA deems unsafe.

The Environmental Work Group (EWG) published a report in 1999 that found that 90 exemptions were granted over a period of five to seven years that allowed for the same pesticide to be used on the same crop. Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President of EWG, astutely noted that “There should be a minimum number of years someone could have the same emergency. At a certain point, it's no longer an emergency, it's a routine pest problem.”

Take Action: Tell the EPA to stop allowing the illegal use of pesticides and to help promote safer pesticide management programs. Write to Stephen Johnson, the EPA Administrator.