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From July 21, 2006                                                                                                        

Public Health Protections and States’ Rights at Risk with Pending U.S. Legislation
(Beyond Pesticides, July 21, 2006) House Republicans are rushing forward with controversial amendments to U.S. laws on toxic chemicals before the November elections. Changes in federal toxics legislation are required before the U.S. can ratify a global treaty phasing out persistent organic pollutants (POPs), some of the most harmful pesticides and industrial chemicals in the world.

Environmental, public health and labor advocates say current bills under consideration to implement the Stockholm Convention (the POPs treaty) make it virtually impossible for the U.S. to meet its obligations under the treaty. “These bills set up ridiculous hurdles to U.S. action on new chemicals targeted for global phase-out under the treaty,” says Kristin Schafer, Program Coordinator at Pesticide Action Network. “If they become law, the U.S. will lag years behind the international community and seriously undermine the treaty’s goals.”

In a rush before the Congressional break, a House Agriculture Committee hearing on HR 3849 to amend FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) is scheduled for this Thursday, July 20, at 10am (EDT) at 1300 Longworth on Capitol Hill.

If the FIFRA POPs bill passes out of the Agriculture Committee, it will be paired with HR 4591, an extremely controversial bill modifying TSCA (the Toxic Substances Control Act) by Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-OH). HR 4591 is actively opposed by 11 state Attorneys General, the American Nurses Association, the United Steelworkers, and more than 60 public health and environmental groups. Gillmor’s bill ignores the precautionary principle, an important concept underlying the Stockholm Convention, and sets a dangerous precedent by preempting states' rights to protect people from POPs chemicals. HR 4591 passed on a July 12th committee vote divided mostly along party lines.

The sole witness expected for Thursday’s hearing, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, was recently accused by the agency’s staff scientists of siding with the pesticide industry on human testing and for speeding the approval of more than 20 harmful pesticides without adequate scientific review. At a time when the agency’s scientific integrity is in question, the FIFRA POPs bill (HR 3849) would allow EPA to disregard findings of international public health specialists, scientists and policy experts concerning the addition of new chemicals to the Convention.

“Pesticides languish for years in EPA’s regulatory Neverland, with dangerous chemicals still on the market and threatening public health,” says Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides. “The agency needs to expedite its review process with respect to chemicals identified by the world community as highly hazardous and damaging, a process ignored in this legislation.”

Persistent Organic Pollutants, or “POPs,” are toxic chemicals that persist in the environment, build up in our bodies and follow water and air currents around the globe. Twelve chemicals are on the initial phase out list under the treaty, including notorious substances like dioxins, DDT and PCBs. Five more chemicals have been nominated and are already being evaluated through a rigorous international scientific review process.

Examples of pesticides that have been under EPA review for decades, ranging from 12 to 17 to 26 years respectively, include the herbicide atrazine (special review 1994 to interim registration 2006), the herbicide 2,4-D (special review 1988, completed re-registration in 2005), and wood preservative pentachlorophenol (special review 1978, preliminary risk assessment in 2004), which led EPA to conclude in 2005 that it is ”premature for EPA to reach conclusions about potential risks” of penta’s contaminants hexachlorobenzene and dioxin.
The next meeting of the Stockholm Convention takes place in May 2007. Meanwhile, 127 countries have ratified the Convention. HR 3849 is co-sponsored by Reps. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK) and Collin Peterson (D-MN). Expedited markup of the bill is expected before Congress leaves for a summer recess July 31.

Contact: Jay Feldman 202 543 5450 jfeldman@beyondpestitcides.org

Available for interviews:

Kristin Schafer, Pesticide Action Network North America, kristins@panna.org, tel. 415 981-6205 ext 327, web: www.panna.org

Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides, jfeldman@beyondpesticides.org, tel. 202 543-5450

Andy Igrejas, National Environmental Trust, AIgrejas@net.org, 202 549-3958

Daryl Ditz, Ph.D., Senior Policy Advisor, Center for International Environmental Law,
dditz@ciel.org, tel. 202 785-9700, web: www.ciel.org

For further information:
Global Treaty Targets Dangerous Pollutants
POPs Ratification Working Group
Stockholm Convention official site
EPA Scientists Protest Pending Pesticide Approvals, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Press Release