EPA Urged to Expedite Phase-Out of Pesticide

Feb. 13, 2007
Conservation groups and the United Farm Workers of America reopened a federal lawsuit against EPA in an effort to hasten the phase-out of the pesticide azinphos-methyl (AZM), which EPA has determined poses a risk to workers and the environment.

In November, EPA determined that the 10 remaining uses of AZM must be phased out by 2012. The agency also announced that the “use of AZM will be increasingly limited during the phase-out period and mitigation measures to further reduce risk to workers and the environment will be implemented.”

The agency ruled that AZM use on Brussels sprouts and nursery stock will be phased out in 2007; AZM use on almonds, walnuts and pistachios will be phased out in 2009; and AZM use on apples/crabapples, blueberries, cherries, pears and parsley will be phased out in 2012.

Groups: Timetable Is Too Long

Groups such as the United Farm Workers of America, Earthjustice and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noreste, among others, contend that the timetable set by EPA is too long because of the “immediate and severe risks” the pesticides poses to farm workers and the environment.

Such groups also are aiming to get rid of two other pesticides – phosmet and chlorpyrifos – which, according to them, were developed from World War I-era nerve toxins.

“These pesticides put thousands of workers at risk of serious illness every year,” said Erik Nicholson of the United Farm Workers of America. “It is inexcusable for the EPA to allow AZM to continue poisoning workers for 6 more years.”

Pesticides Can Attack Brain, Nervous System

According to the groups, the three pesticides are highly “neurotoxic insecticides,” which they claim can attack the human brain and nervous system. Exposure, they assert, can cause dizziness, vomiting, convulsions, numbness in the limbs, loss of intellectual function and even death.

In a statement issued in response to the reopened lawsuit, EPA said that the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation and would respond through its attorneys. However, the agency added that it “has taken action to address agricultural worker and ecological risks associated with these pesticides named in this amended lawsuit.”

“The agency takes very seriously our responsibilities to address worker and wildlife risks posed by the three pesticides named in this lawsuit and other pesticides,” EPA said.

EPA in 2001 concluded that 35 uses of AZM either should be immediately canceled or phased out over a 4-year period. The agency, however, decided that “the remaining 10 time-limited AZM uses” – for almonds, apples/crabapples, high-bush and low-bush blueberries, Brussels sprouts, cherries, nursery stock, parsley, pears, pistachios and walnuts – “were eligible for re-registration for a period of 4 years, contingent on the submission of additional data and pending completion of the cumulative risk assessment for [organophosphate pesticides].”

Farm worker advocates challenged the decision in a federal court. EPA subsequently agreed to reconsider whether to ban AZM, and as a result, last November introduced its 6-year phase-out plan for the remaining 10 AZM uses.

EPA Introduced Phosmet Restrictions in January

In January, EPA decided to lengthen the restricted entry levels for phosmet as well as implement a risk mitigation plan for the pesticide, which includes:

  • Lower seasonal maximum application rates.
  • Prohibition of phosmet application until after certain high-exposure activities have occurred.
  • A 25-foot buffer zone around occupied dwellings for ground applications.
  • A 50-foot buffer zone around occupied dwellings for aerial applications.
  • Health protective entry restrictions for pick-your-own operations.

Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, asserted that EPA’s plan for AZM and pesticides such as phosmet do not go far enough to protect workers.

“It’s outrageous that EPA allowed continued use of AZM knowing that it would expose farm workers to unacceptable risks of pesticide poisonings,” Goldman said. “Since growers have already had 5 years to shift to other pest controls, there is no reason to subject workers and their communities to more poisonings for another 6 years.”

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