December 31, 2009

EPA Proposes Pesticide Crackdown

In response to legal petitions filed by 22 environmental groups and 14 states, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule requiring manufacturers of "chemicals of concern" to publicly disclose all the ingredients in their poisonous products. [see my past postings on pesticides and chemicals]

Did you know that 350 "inert" pesticide ingredients (defined as anything that doesn't kill or control a pest) are toxic, carcinogenic, flammable, or otherwise dangerous? But current law only requires that ingredients classified as "active" be listed on product labels. I recently learned that an inert ingredient in Roundup is not-too-kind to some critters.

According to the official EPA news release,  the EPA "announced a series of actions on four chemicals raising serious health or environmental concerns, including phthalates. For the first time, EPA intends to establish a “Chemicals of Concern” list and is beginning a process that may lead to regulations requiring significant risk reduction measures to protect human health and the environment. The agency’s actions represent its determination to use its authority under the existing Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to the fullest extent possible, recognizing EPA’s strong belief that the 1976 law is both outdated and in need of reform.

In addition to phthalates, the chemicals EPA is addressing today are short-chain chlorinated paraffins, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perfluorinated chemicals, including PFOA. These chemicals are used in the manufacture of a wide array of products and have raised a range of health and environmental concerns.

EPA also recently announced that three U.S. companies agreed to phase out DecaBDE, a widely used fire retardant chemical that may potentially cause cancer and may impact brain function. . . .

When TSCA was passed in 1976, there were 60,000 chemicals on the inventory of existing chemicals. Since that time, EPA has only successfully restricted or banned five existing chemicals and has only required testing on another two hundred existing chemicals. An additional 20,000 chemicals have entered the marketplace for a total of more than 80,000 chemicals on the TSCA inventory.

 This is the first time EPA has used TSCA’s authority to list chemicals that “may present an unreasonable risk of injury to health and the environment.” The decision to list the chemicals further signals this administration’s commitment to aggressively use the tools at its disposal under TSCA. Inclusion on the list publicly signals EPA’s strong concern about the risks that those chemicals pose and the agency’s intention to manage those risks. Once listed, chemical companies can provide information to the agency if they want to demonstrate that their chemical does not pose an unreasonable risk.

More information on EPA’s legislative reform principles and a fact sheet on the complete set of actions on the four chemicals:  

WILL IT REALLY HAPPEN? Pesticide manufacturers and their lobbyists will likely challenge this rule. Will money talk? Stay tuned.
WHAT CAN YOU DO? Virginia Cooperative Extension has a dandy new Pest Management Guide: Home Grounds and Animals, 2010 . It has info on turf insects and diseases, weeds, and tree and shrub suggestions.

There's also a cool website from RISE, which stands for Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, that gives you a lot of advice on using pesticides responsibly.