May 10, 2008
Environmental and farm worker groups have now sued the Bush administration for allowing the continued use of four pesticides. They claim that the government brushed aside its own evidence that the chemicals are toxic to workers, children, and animals.
The suit challenged the Environmental Protection Agency's 2006 decision to reauthorize the four pesticides used on fruit and vegetable fields in California.
A 1996 federal law required the EPA to reassess the safety of all pesticides used on foods. Based on this reassessment, the EPA was to decide whether to approve their use. The EPA found that four substances posed substantial risks to human health but they concluded that the cost savings to growers outweighed the dangers to humans.
These four pesticides reportedly put thousands of farm workers and their families at risk of serious illness.
EPA spokesman Tim Lyons stated that the agency would review the lawsuit and respond in court. However, they did say: "Our mission is to protect the environment and human health."
California officials have officially classified one of the pesticides (ethoprop) as a carcinogen. The state requires manufacturers to disclose this risk on any product label but cannot outright ban the pesticide because it has the EPA's approval. The suit said the pesticide, which is mainly used on potatoes, sugarcane, and tobacco, has been linked to fish deaths and has also begun to drift from fields into nearby rural communities.
Another pesticide (methidathion) has been listed as an air contaminant by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation due to the potential health hazards associated with it. This chemical is used on artichokes, oranges, almonds, peaches and olives in California.
The other two pesticides are methamidophos (used mostly on potatoes and cotton) and oxydemeton-methyl (used on broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, corn, cabbage and Brussels sprouts). The suit stated that both have been associated with bird deaths. Methamidophos has been banned or severely restricted in several countries in recent years. Oxydemeton-methyl is now linked to birth defects.
The basis for the lawsuit is the EPA's own findings about the risks associated with these four pesticides.
Federal law allows the agency latitude to approve the continued use of risky pesticides such as these based on offsetting benefits. The main benefit preventing the EPA ban of these chemicals is, not surprisingly, cost savings. However, the EPA has failed to address the specific dangers each pesticide poses to children. It has also not taken into adequate account the potential adverse effects on farm workers or to wildlife.
The suit is seeking a court order requiring the agency to re-evaluate once again the use of these pesticides. Plaintiffs in the suit include the United Farm Workers, the Teamsters, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides and the Natural Resources Defense Council.