Decision to Ban Hazardous-to-Farmworker Pesticide Stands

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 4, 2012,   After considering comments from growers and other stakeholders, including over 2,000 emails generated from Beyond Pesticides’ supporters on the recent proposal to reverse a decision to end the use of the organophosphate insecticide azinphos-methyl (AZM), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has once again come to the conclusion that the chemical presents health risks to workers and can cause negative ecological impacts, while effective alternatives to this insecticide are available to growers. The agency has decided to maintain the initial September 30, 2012 date for cancellation of the remaining uses of AZM, on apples, blueberries, sweet and tart cherries, parsley, and pears.

Though this represents a victory for farmworkers and health and environmental advocates, EPA has decided to allow growers to use only existing stocks of AZM in their possession for another year, through September 30, 2013, citing unusually bad weather conditions throughout 2012. All the required mitigation measures now reflected on AZM labeling will remain in effect during this use. Distribution or sale of AZM after September 30, 2012 remains prohibited.

Due to industry pressure, the agency initially announced that it was conducting a new risk-benefit analysis (analysis of the impacts of cancellation) and considering whether to keep in place or amend the cancellation order for AZM back in July. New information submitted to EPA by the registrants claimed that alternatives to AZM are more expensive than previous estimates, and would need to be used more frequently to control pests. However, a 2010 analysis conducted in Washington state found that the ban on AZM only modestly affected sales, prices and employment in the apple industry with a negligible impact on the overall state’s economy. EPA’s document, Re-evaluation of the Grower Impacts of Cancelling Azinphos-methyl from EPA’s Biological and Economic Analysis Division (BEAD), outlines the economic costs, the possibility of load rejections of fruit due to insect contamination, and possible loss of access to export markets due to restrictions on residues of alternative insecticides.

Azinphos-methyl, (AZM) is a highly neurotoxic organophosphate insecticide. Like other organophosphates, AZM attacks the nervous system. AZM poses risks to farmworkers, water quality, and aquatic ecosystems. AZM runoff is responsible for killing up to a million fish, along with turtles, alligators, snakes and birds.

In 2001, EPA found that insecticides azinphos-methyl (AZM) poses unacceptable risks to farmworkers and announced that 28 crop uses were being canceled, seven crop uses were to be phased-out over four years, and eight crop uses were to be allowed to continue under a “time-limited” registration for another four years. Farmworker advocates, including Shelley Davis, former deputy director of Farmworker Justice, Beyond Pesticides board member, and recipient of Beyond Pesticides’ 2008 Dragonfly Award, challenged that decision in federal court citing that EPA failed to take into account the costs of poisoning workers, exposing children, and polluting rivers and streams. A settlement agreement effectively stayed the legal challenge pending EPA’s reconsideration of the “time limited” uses of AZM. In November 2006, EPA agreed and decided that AZM poses unreasonable adverse effects and issued a final decision to cancel AZM, but allowed continued use on some fruit crops (apples, cherries, pears) for six more years –until 2012.

EPA has an astounding history of negotiated multi-year phase-outs with industry, placing economic gains over the protection of the health of the public. As seen in other EPA decisions, cancellation of a toxic pesticide does not mean that the chemical would be removed from the market, but it is allowed to linger on the market for years continuing in the endangerment of farmworker health and environmental contamination. For instance, in 2010, EPA negotiated a long phase-out agreement with endosulfan’s manufacturers that allows uses to continue through 2016, even though EPA concluded that endosulfan’s significant risks to wildlife and agricultural workers outweigh its limited benefits to growers and consumers, and that there are risks above the agency’s level of concern for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, as well as birds and mammals that consume aquatic prey that have ingested endosulfan.

Sources: EPA Press Release

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.