Today EPA announces intent to cancel toxic pesticide carbofuran

Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the residues of the pesticide carbofuran that end up on our food and in our drinking water are too high, and may be unsafe. Thus, after first registering the chemical for agriculture use in 1969, and estimating that about 1 million pounds are used annually in the U.S., EPA is now proposing to cancel all uses of the  pesticide.

EPA found in their review of the pesticide that the acute dietary risk from food alone  is about 2.5-fold above acceptable levels for the general population, and almost 5-fold above acceptable levels for toddlers, the age group with the highest estimated dietary exposure. 

The EPA is now proposing to also prevent carbofuran residues to contaminate imported sugarcane, rice, bananas, and coffee, something that EPA had earlier proposed to allow and NRDC and others had strenuously objected to.

What do EPA scientists say about the adverse effects associated with this pesticide?

  • In humans, “…it can overstimulate the nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, confusion, and at very high exposures (e.g. accidents or major spills), respiratory paralysis and death.”
  • “…very highly toxic to birds on an acute basis, and highly toxic on a sub-acute basis. A chronic effect level could not be established due to the fact that all concentrations tested caused mortality in the test subjects.”
  • “ …considered to be very highly toxic to freshwater and estuarine/marine invertebrates on an acute basis. Chronic tests showed reproductive effects.”

In addition to the above hazard warnings that the registrant, FMC corporation, must put on the product label, it also notes that carbofuran is “highly toxic to bees” exposed during pesticide application or even if exposed to residues on crops. Yeow!

The American Bird Conservancy reports that carbofuran has been linked to the death of more than one hundred bird species, including hundreds of bald eagle deaths!

Eagles, bees, our children…what kind of chemical is this that the Department of Ag continues to defend? See the EPA response to the Ag Department’s letter at searching the following document ID: EPA-HQ-OPP-2005-0162-0507

On July 30, EPA will initiate a 60-day comment period on its decision. EPA will review comments and post its final decision, with a window for interested parties to contest the decision. This may stimulate an administrative hearing. Maybe in the summer of 2009 EPA’s final decision would finally take effect, when the final decision is published.

Don't fail us now, EPA. Stick with the science and protect people and wildlife! 

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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