NRDC-Led Coalition and States Sue EPA For Not Protecting Children from Pesticides

Groups Charge EPA Is Violating Federal Law

WASHINGTON (September 15, 2003) -- The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to adequately protect children from dangerous pesticides, according to two lawsuits filed today, one by a coalition of conservation, public health and farmworker organizations, and the other by four states. The lawsuits charge that EPA is violating the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, a bipartisan law passed unanimously by Congress requiring the agency -- for the first time in an environmental law -- to protect the health of infants and children. The suits are being filed today in federal district court in New York City.

The lawsuits ask 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 or exposure. 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 and more exposed 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. (For more background on the law, click here.)

"President Bush says his administration will leave no child behind," said Erik Olson, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), the lead plaintiff in the coalition suit. "But his administration is apparently more interested in the health of the chemical industry than the health of our children. Republicans and Democrats unanimously passed this law to protect our kids from pesticides, but the Bush administration won't enforce it."

Joining NRDC in the lawsuit are the Pesticide Action Network North America, the Breast Cancer Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility, New York Public Interest Research Group, Farmworker Legal Services of New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Neighborhood Network Research Center, Citizens' Environmental Coalition, the Mid-Hudson Catskill Rural and Migrant Ministry, and Environmental Advocates of New York. Two other groups, Earthjustice and the Farmworker Justice Fund, are co-counsel with NRDC in the case. The states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts brought the other lawsuit, making similar claims under the same law. "Protecting children from the risks of eating food containing harmful pesticides is an essential function of government," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Today's lawsuit is a follow-up to NRDC's successful 1999 lawsuit that forced EPA to review the safety of specific high-risk toxic pesticides as mandated by the law. Since then, EPA has banned or severely restricted some of the most dangerous uses of the worst pesticides. But the agency has repeatedly allowed high-risk uses of several toxic pesticides to continue, and shirked its responsibility to ensure that infants and children are protected.

Specifically, today's 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 far more heavily exposed to pesticides than average children; and

  • relying on a confidential, proprietary, industry-developed computer model to determine pesticide risks.

"EPA is ignoring the threat toxic pesticides pose to children who work on farms and other children who live nearby," said Aaron Colangelo, an NRDC attorney. NRDC and more than 60 other organizations petitioned EPA in 1998 to address the risks pesticides pose to farm children, but the agency never responded to the petition. "EPA also illegally bases some of its most important pesticide safety decisions on a secret, industry-funded computer program that it refuses to reveal to the public. This is an unacceptable violation of the law and the public trust."

For information on the lawsuit by the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, contact Marc Violette (N.Y.) at 518-473-5525, Paul Loriquet (N.J.) at 609-292 4791, Maura Fitzgerald (Ct.) at 860-808-5324, or Sarah Nathan (Mass.) at 617-727-2543.

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 Sues EPA (Again) for Failing to Carry Out Pesticide Control Law