Daily News Archives

Legislation Would Allow More Pesticide Poisoning of Water
(Beyond Pesticides, May 9, 2005)
Thirty-four members of the U.S. House of Representatives on April 21, 2005 introduced legislation that reduces existing requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA), which are intended to prevent water contamination from pesticide use. This legislation follows on the heels of an EPA proposal to achieve the same end through an administrative maneuver. A companion bill in the Senate has not yet been introduced.

The bill, the Pest Management and Fire Suppression Flexibility Act (H.R. 1749), amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (as amended in 1977, this law became popularly known as the Clean Water Act) to state that the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shall not require a permit under the national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES), or require a state to mandate such a permit, for: (1) the proper use of a pesticide that is registered or otherwise approved for use under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); and (2) the use by or in cooperation with the federal or state government of a fire retardant, chemical, or water for fire suppression, control, or prevention in accordance with relevant Federal guidelines; (3) silvicultural activities except for specified point source activities; and (4) the use of biological control organisms for the prevention, control, or eradication of plant pests or noxious weeds pursuant to specified provisions of the Plant Protection Act. The bill also redefines "point source" to exclude from the term those public health protection, pest management, and silvicultural activities excluded from NPDES permit requirements under this Act.

The chemical industry (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment - RISE) hailed the legislation, saying, “U.S. Representatives Butch Otter (R-ID) and Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) should be applauded. The Pest Management and Fire Suppression Flexibility Act (H.R. 1749) affirms that pesticide applicators do not need a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES) to apply product directly to or over bodies of water.”

Beyond Pesticides, in collaboration with other environmental and public health groups, has sought to protect against the poisoning of the waterways with pesticides, by enforcing the NPDES program.

On October 10, 2003, Beyond Pesticides submitted comments to EPA, opposing the agency's own proposal to amend the permit setting process, explaining why the agency should adhere to the water permitting process, drawing the important distinctions between FIFRA and CWA. (See comments.) In 2004, EPA proposed changing pesticide product labels for mosquito use to allow deposition over waterways, without any analysis of health and environmental impact or assessment. (See Alert.)

Beyond Pesticides has been involved in litigation seeking protection under the Clean Water Act. Working with a number of groups in Maine, two major blueberry growers and processors decided to stop aerially spraying their fields when threatened with litigation. See Daily News archives, including April 14, 2005 and October 10, 2004. In July 2000, Beyond Pesticides joined with the No Spray Coalition, Disabled in Action, NY Save Organic Standards, the National Preparedness Network, and several individuals to file suit in a federal court against the City of New York for violating federal and state environmental statutes designed to protect public health and the environment with the broadcast spraying of toxic pesticides in its West NIle virus spray program. Since winning an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the second circuit in December 2003, the plaintiffs are waiting for a ruling. The U.S. District Court decision, which concurred with the government’s argument that FIFRA trumped the Clean Water Act, was vacated.

The activists argue that the city's mosquito-control pesticide-spray program, despite the availability of alternative source reduction and public education approaches, puts the health of residents at serious risk and threatens critical environmental wildlife habitat and is in violation of the approved labels and law. The suit lists a series of violations associated with the 1999 spraying in which hazardous insecticides were sprayed from helicopters and trucks. The pesticides used by the city are known to cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, skin irritation, loss of coordination, twitching and seizures, as well as delayed long-term neurotoxic effects, including optic and peripheral neuropathy. The pesticides may also be a cause of breast cancer.

TAKE ACTION. Contact your Congressional representatives in Congress to let them know what you think about this legislation. For more information, please contact Beyond Pesticides.