EPA sued for soft-pedalling on anti-pesticide safeguards
The us Environmental Protection Agency (epa) suffered a double whammy on September 15, when two separate lawsuits raising the same issue were filed against it in the federal district court for the Southern District of New York. The contention in both cases: epa 's inability to implement stipulated children-specific standards for pesticide content in food. These norms prescribe an additional tenfold margin of safety.
The plaintiffs in one of the cases are the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Litigation in the other has been initiated by an 11-member informal group comprising the Natural Resources Defense Council (nrdc), Pesticide Action Network North America, Breast Cancer Fund and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
nrdc staff attorney Aaron Colangelo explains why the recourse was taken: "We petitioned epa repeatedly in 1998 to protect infants and children, but it didn't respond. The issue was also raised in several comments to the agency on individual pesticides. This, too, didn't bear fruit. We've had to sue epa because not only has it failed to shield kids from pesticides, it is actually re-approving many such toxic chemicals."
Marc Violette of the New York attorney general's office, too, cites similar reasons: "Two years of meetings, conference calls and document-swapping with the agency did not yield anything. In our view, further interface of this nature was not going to sway epa to do its job." But the watchdog body claims that the recommended standards are already being met and no supplementary measures are required. epa spokesperson Nina Habib Spencer asserts: "Let there be no mistake. The agency is extremely concerned about the safety of the nation's children."
The act clearly spelt out that "the Administrator may use a different margin of safety for the pesticide chemical residue only if, on the basis of reliable data, (it) will be safe for...children".
epa , however, puts its own interpretation on the regulation. "Ten is not a magic number. We have, at times, used an even higher standard for assessing pesticide toxicity to children," Spencer tells Down To Earth and adds: "Given the variety of these chemicals in the market, congress let epa scientists assess each product differently with up to a tenfold added safety factor for children."
The report's single most important conclusion was that "because of the specific periods of vulnerability that exist during (a child's) development...the tenfold uncertainty factor traditionally used for foetal developmental toxicity should also be considered for (the) post-natal (period)". It considered the development of children from the beginning of the last trimester of pregnancy (26 weeks) through 18 years of age, and deduced that the target group could not be construed to be "little adults".
This meant that their sensitivity to chemical compounds could not be predicted on the basis of tests conducted on adult humans or even adult and adolescent animals. The document, in effect, questioned the efficacy of epa's acceptable daily intake (adi ) as a shield for infants and children. adi is the amount of chemical that can be safely ingested daily over a lifetime. The report highlighted the fact that while the safety margin of 100 -- between rat studies and humans -- includes a factor of 10 for inter-individual differences, it does not take into account "potential pre and post-natal toxicity".
It observed that infants and children differ from adults not only in size, but also in many other aspects. These include biochemical and physiological functions in major body systems; body compositions in terms of proportion of water, fat, protein and mineral mass as well as chemical constituents of these components; organ structure; and relative proportions of muscle, bone, solid organs and brain. It was inferred that such structural and functional differences between neonates and adults could influence the toxicity of pesticides. Hence the need for the more stringent standards.
The report determined pesticide tolerances to protect infants and children. These are maximum permissible limits of pesticide residues that can be allowed on raw or processed foods. The executive summary of the document emphasised that " epa modify its decision-making process for setting tolerances, so that it is based more on health considerations than on agricultural practices".
The report explicitly stated the health risks posed by diazinon, disulfoton and oxydemeton methyl, which are neurotoxins. Exposure to these pesticides can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, sweating, diarrhoea, breathing disorders, blurred vision and memory loss. It also mentioned that alachlor and captan increase the risk of cancer.
Pesticides widely used on food consumed by children in the US
|Alachlor||Corn, soya bean and peanuts|
|Chlorothalonil||Bananas, broccoli, carrots, corn, peaches, peanuts, potatoes, soya bean, squash and tomatoes|
|Methomyl||Apples, beans, broccoli, corn, grapes, oats, oranges, peaches, peanuts, pears, soya bean, tomatoes and wheat|
|Metribuzin||Carrots, potatoes, soya bean, tomatoes and wheat|
|Thiodicarb||Corn and soya bean|
Source: Eliot Spitzer et al 2003, 'States sue EPA for failing to protect children from pesticides', US, September 15
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