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September 15, 2003
Press Erik Olson, Aaron Colangelo or Elliott Negin, 202-289-6868
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NRDC Sues EPA (Again) for Failing to Carry Out Pesticide Control Law
This month NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to comply with legal requirements to protect children, farm workers and the general public from dangerous pesticides under the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA). This lawsuit is a follow-up to the organization's successful 1999 lawsuit that forced the agency to assess the safety of many specific toxic pesticides. As a result of the deadlines from the 1999 suit, EPA has banned or severely restricted some uses of some of the worst pesticides, but the agency still has repeatedly failed to comply with the FQPA's most basic child and public health protection provisions for many highly toxic pesticides.
The September 2003 lawsuit asks the court to force EPA to comply with the Food Quality Protection Act's key provision requiring the agency to protect infants and children 10 times more stringently than adults, unless it can show that children do not have special sensitivities. Congress inserted this safety factor in the law on the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that infants and children are more susceptible to many toxic pesticides than adults. A year ago, EPA's independent scientific review panel on pesticides, called the Scientific Advisory Panel, found that the agency erred by failing to apply the tenfold safety factor when reviewing the cumulative risks of organophosphate insecticides, which are among the most dangerous pesticides on the market.
Specifically, the NRDC lawsuit charges that EPA has violated the law by:
- failing to use a tenfold infant and child protection safety factor;
- failing to protect highly vulnerable or highly exposed people, including farmworkers' children and other children living on or near farms, who are more heavily exposed to pesticides than average children; and
- relying on a confidential, proprietary, industry-developed computer model to determine pesticide risks.
Congress unanimously passed the FQPA, which President Clinton signed into law on August 3, 1996. The FQPA amended U.S. pesticide and food safety laws by requiring EPA to consider the health of infants and children when determining the acceptable levels of pesticide residues, called "tolerances," in our food supply. The FQPA required EPA to reassess all existing pesticide tolerances -- using the FQPA's new health standard -- over a 10-year period, with interim deadlines every three years. The first of these deadlines was August 3, 1999, the second was on August 3, 2002. The act further required EPA to review and assess the worst, most dangerous tolerances first. The agency repeatedly has failed to meet these deadlines -- in large part due to industry and political pressure.
NRDC filed the new lawsuit as a last resort after a number of frustrating attempts to prod EPA to carry out the law. NRDC scientists and lawyers have commented on voluminous agency documents, including both policy guidances and specific chemical risk assessments. They have filed two formal legal petitions with the agency demanding that it comply with the clear intent of the law to protect all children, including those who live on or near farms.1 They have written numerous letters to EPA officials requesting they implement the children's protection provisions in the law. NRDC staff members also have participated in five EPA advisory committees to facilitate FQPA implementation.
The new suit challenges a series of EPA decisions, many triggered by the 2001 consent decree, that have resulted in no agency control, or only weak control, of highly toxic chemicals known to cause brain and nerve damage, cancer, disruption of reproductive and endocrine systems, and serious environmental harm. Many of these hazardous pesticides are ubiquitous, found in our food, air, homes, schools, parks, golf courses, drinking water and elsewhere.
For more information, see "Pesticides Threaten Farm Children's Health" (November 1998); "Putting Children First: Making Pesticide Levels in Food Safer for Infants and Children," (April 1998 (executive summary)), "Trouble on the Farm: Growing Up with Pesticides in Agricultural Communities," (October 1998 (executive summary)), and "Fields of Change: A New Crop of Farmers Finds Alternatives to Pesticides, (July 1998 (executive summary)).
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Related NRDC Pages
September 15, 2003, NRDC-Led Coalition and States Sue EPA For Not Protecting Children from Pesticides
1. "Petition for a Directive that the Agency Consistently Fulfill Its Duty to Retain the Child-Protective Tenfold Safety Factor Mandated by the Food Quality Protection Act" filed with EPA April 23, 1998; and Petition for a Directive that the Agency Designate Farm Children as a Major Identifiable Subgroup and Population at Special Risk to be Protected Under the Food Quality Protection Act" filed with EPA October 22, 1998.
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