Private Meetings with Chemical Companies Violate Federal Laws Requiring an Open Process

WASHINGTON (February 17, 2005) -- The Environmental Protection Agency is illegally negotiating secret agreements with industry lobbyists over pesticide regulation, according to a lawsuit filed today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The lawsuit specifically cites private agreements between the agency and chemical companies over the regulation of atrazine, one of the most heavily used weed-killers in the country, and DDVP, a highly toxic insecticide. NRDC contends the agreements have undermined public health safeguards by failing to restrict the use of these dangerous chemicals.

"The EPA's secret, backroom deals with pesticide makers are clearly against the law, and they're a threat to our health," said NRDC attorney Aaron Colangelo. "EPA is required to make independent decisions on pesticide safety, instead of negotiating deals with the chemical industry."

According to government records obtained by NRDC through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPA officials met secretly more than 40 times with representatives from atrazine's main manufacturer, Syngenta, while the agency was evaluating the weed-killer's toxicity. Ultimately the agency agreed to allow atrazine to stay on the market even though the chemical has contaminated drinking water sources across the country. (See EPA Won't Restrict Toxic Herbicide Atrazine, Despite Health Threat.) The EPA also has been involved in private negotiations with the chemical company Amvac over the status of the insecticide DDVP (dichlorvos), which it sells under a number of trade names, including "No-Pest Strips." These negotiations violate EPA's regulations and federal law, specifically the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Freedom of Information Act, according to NRDC's lawsuit.

"These deals are bad for public health, bad for the environment and bad for democracy," said Erik D. Olson, an NRDC senior attorney. Olson noted that more than 20 years ago NRDC sued the agency for similar widespread violations committed under EPA Administrator Ann Gorsuch. After Gorsuch and other EPA officials resigned amid allegations of improper industry influence, William Ruckelshaus replaced Gorsuch and settled NRDC's case in 1984, agreeing to strict regulations that forbid secret meetings and private deal-making. "EPA apparently is back to its old bad habits," Olson said.

The regulations prompted by NRDC's 1983 lawsuit require open and transparent decision-making when the EPA is registering high risk pesticides or has placed them in "special review," which calls for a prompt evaluation of their safety. These regulations forbid EPA from making a final decision based on negotiations with industry, and require the agency to make such decisions independently. In addition, if the agency establishes a group of outside advisors, the Federal Advisory Committee Act requires it to create a balanced advisory committee that meets in the open and is not "inappropriately influenced" by "any special interest." Today's suit charges that EPA has ignored these requirements in its atrazine and DDVP negotiations.

Atrazine is used on most of the corn and sugarcane grown in the United States and has been detected in the drinking water of more than a million Americans at levels higher than EPA's safety standard. Scientific studies have found that atrazine can damage the reproductive system and cause higher rates of cancer.

The European Union recently banned atrazine because of pervasive drinking water contamination. Instead of restricting or banning atrazine in the United States, however, the EPA recently negotiated an agreement that only requires Syngenta to monitor streams and drinking water supplies for contamination. Under this deal, Syngenta will test fewer than 4 percent of the streams identified by the EPA as being at highest risk for atrazine contamination.

DDVP is one of a class of chemicals called organophosphates, which are neurotoxins that were originally developed as chemical weapons during World War II. DDVP causes permanent nervous system damage in young test animals, and may cause related abnormalities in exposed infants and children. Exposure to DDVP also can cause uncontrollable sweating, nausea, dizziness, muscle tremors and even death. Despite the risks, EPA is privately negotiating with DDVP's manufacturer Amvac to allow the company to continue to sell this nerve poison for many home and agricultural uses.

The lawsuit was filed today in federal court in Washington, D.C. NRDC is represented in the case by Colangelo, Olson, and the public interest law firm Meyer & Glitzenstein.

The following documents show some of the negotiations between the EPA and industry lobbyists. These are just a small sample of the hundreds of documents NRDC has obtained that provide evidence of these illegal negotiations.