Agency Proposes to Allow Azinphos-Methyl on the Market for Four More Years

WASHINGTON (June 12, 2006) -- In response to a lawsuit filed by worker and environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to ban azinphos-methyl (AZM), one of the most hazardous pesticides used in agriculture.

But the long-overdue move would needlessly expose farm workers, their families, and consumers to unnecessary risks by allowing growers to continue using the pesticide until 2010 in some cases, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said today. Four more years of AZM use also would continue to threaten the habitat of endangered fish, especially salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

"AZM is a neurotoxin that attacks the human nervous system, and it should have been banned long ago," said Jennifer Sass, an NRDC senior scientist. "There are safer alternatives available right now. We don't need to wait as long as four years to take it off the market."

Despite AZM's known risks, the EPA's proposed rule would allow growers to continue applying the toxin on almonds, Brussels sprouts, pistachios, walnuts and nursery stock until 2007 -- and on apples, blueberries, cherries, parsley and pears until 2010. Three-quarters of the AZM used every year is sprayed on apples.

AZM, which is sold under the trade name Guthion, is among the worst five pesticides that harm agricultural workers, according to Farmworker Justice, a national advocacy organization. It is an organophosphate, a set of insecticides derived from World War II-era nerve agents.

"We are pleased that the agency is finally moving to take AZM off the market," said Shelley Davis, Farmworker Justice's deputy director. "But each year the EPA delays banning it, farmworkers and their children will continue to be poisoned."

The EPA is taking this action in part to meet an August 2006 deadline for re-evaluating pesticides set by Congress in the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). That law, passed in 1996, required the EPA to reassess all existing pesticide tolerances -- the maximum residue levels permitted on foods -- over a 10-year period, with specific interim deadlines. The first third of those reassessments was to be finished by mid-1999, three years after the FQPA became law; and the second third was to be completed by 2002. The EPA missed its 1999 deadline, and has never caught up.

"The EPA has been dragging its feet for years to protect Americans from outdated, dangerous chemicals that would never have been approved if the laws we have now were in place years ago," said Dr. Sass.

The lawsuit that prompted the new EPA proposal was filed by worker and environmental groups in 2003 to challenge EPA's registration of two neurotoxic pesticides, AZM and phosmet. It was filed by attorneys with California Rural Legal Assistance, Earthjustice, Farmworker Justice and NRDC on behalf of Beyond Pesticides, Frente Indigena Oaxaquena Binacional, Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Sea Mar Community Health Center and United Farm Workers of America.