Chemical in Pest Strips, Pet Collars Can Harm Nervous System

WASHINGTON (May 17, 2006) -- The Environmental Protection Agency announced this week it will continue to allow a highly toxic household pesticide to stay on the market -- even though four years ago agency experts concluded it poses a serious risk to human health. The pesticide, dichlorvos, or DDVP, is commonly used in pest strips, aerosol sprays and pet collars.

Health advocates and environmental groups have long called for the pesticide to be banned. It can cause flu-like symptoms, headaches, nausea and dizziness, and in large doses, can be fatal. Health advocates also are concerned that the pesticide might damage the brains of developing fetuses and infants.

"Years ago EPA acknowledged that DDVP poses a significant threat to health, but it negotiated an illegal, backroom deal with the manufacturer to keep it on the market," said Aaron Colangelo, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "This pesticide especially threatens our children, but the agency seems more interested in protecting the one company that makes it."

According to the EPA's own rules governing pesticides like DDVP, the agency cannot negotiate with manufacturers privately and must make detailed summaries of its discussions with manufacturers publicly available. While the agency conceded to NRDC that weeks ago it shared a summary of its new DDVP risk assessment with the pesticide's manufacturer, Amvac, it only released the assessment publicly late yesterday -- after it announced its negotiated agreement on how to regulate the chemical.

In a controversial move, the EPA based much of its DDVP risk assessment on a study in which only six adults were dosed with the toxic chemical. NRDC and other independent experts have found several major ethical and scientific problems with the study.

DDVP is used in a number of commercial products, including Alco No-Pest Strips, Amvac Insect Strip and Swat Pest Strip. Under the private agreement between EPA and Amvac, the company will reduce the size of some pest strips and modify labels to warn consumers about where they can use strips and for how long. Amvac agreed to eventually phase out greenhouse foggers and certain other agricultural and lawn uses. But its pet collars and aerosol spray cans will stay on the market.

DDVP, which kills mosquitoes, fleas and other insects, is one of a class of the most dangerous pesticides on the market, called organophosphates, which derive from World War II-era nerve agents. Studies have shown DDVP causes cancer in laboratory animals. California, the home of the pesticide's manufacturer, lists DDVP as a known carcinogen, while the World Health Organization and the EPA list it as a possible human carcinogen. The chemical is banned in the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden.

In the mid-1990s, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that EPA's pesticide regulatory program was failing to protect children, who are more susceptible to the toxic effects of these chemicals than adults. In response, Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996, which required EPA to tighten regulations to protect infants and children, partly by establishing a 10-fold safety factor for children. Studies have shown that some organophosphates disrupt brain development in young children, and the EPA has required pesticide makers to test organophosphates for their effects on laboratory animals. The EPA rejected Amvac's DDVP study as inadequate, but instead of requiring the company to do another study, it waived the required 10-fold safety factor when reaching its decision on how to regulate the chemical. That's against the law, according to NRDC.

"EPA is jeopardizing the health of our children," said Dr. Jennifer Sass, an NRDC senior scientist. "The agency should ban DDVP. There are safer alternatives on the market today, and we urge consumers to avoid any product that says DDVP or dichlorvos on its label."

Although yesterday's announcement technically is a "proposal," the EPA already declared that its agreement with Amvac resolves the agency's health concerns. That position amounts to a 180-degree turnaround for the agency, Colangelo said.

In 2002, the agency reviewed 30 organophosphate pesticides after NRDC sued the agency for missing a congressionally mandated deadline to review the most dangerous pesticides on the market. The review found that DDVP and another pesticide, dimethoate, were unreasonably dangerous to human health. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, then the agency's assistant administrator, told the Associated Press that the agency was seriously considering banning DDVP. Instead, the agency decided yesterday to continue to allow the pesticide's most dangerous uses.