NRDC-Led Coalition Reaches Settlement with EPA To Meet Agency’s Legal Obligation to Regulate Pesticides

WASHINGTON (January 19, 2001) - NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, and other environmental groups and individuals today announced a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires the agency to carry out its legal obligations to control the health risks of pesticides.

"We are pleased that the EPA is now committed to carrying out many of its key legal duties mandated unanimously by Congress in 1996 to protect children, farm workers, and the general public from dangerous pesticides," said Erik Olson, an NRDC senior attorney. "In this settlement, the EPA agrees to evaluate the threats posed by some of the riskiest pesticides over the next few years, as Congress clearly required."

In the settlement, EPA agreed to implement some of the key congressional mandates in the 1996 federal pesticide law, the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), and 1988 amendments to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The settlement requires EPA to:

  • assess, by August 2002, the cumulative risks of all 39 organophosphate insecticides (often highly toxic chemicals that are the most widely used insecticides in the nation);

  • determine on a specified timetable over the next year and a half whether the carbamate family of insecticides (often toxic, widely used insecticides), the triazine family of herbicides (weed killers that often get into drinking water, including atrazine, the No. 1 herbicide in the nation); and the "chlor-" family of herbicides (widely used weed killers that also are found in many drinking water supplies) act together as cumulative poisons. If EPA finds that they do have this cumulative effect, FQPA requires the agency to ensure the public is protected from their cumulative risks;

  • decide on a specified timetable how it will control or eliminate the risks of 11 highly hazardous pesticides: phosmet, azinphos-methyl, propargite, chlorpyrifos, atrazine, carbaryl, benomyl, endosulfan, lindane, diazinon and metam sodium. (EPA already has taken action on some of the risks of a few of these pesticides, such as azinphos methyl and chlorpyrifos, but has not finalized how it will control their hazards);

  • adopt on a specified timetable the necessary actions to protect farm workers from three of the most risky insecticides used on crops (azinphos methyl, chlorpyrifos and diazinon); and

  • meet a specified timetable to initiate a program testing for the effects of pesticides and certain other chemicals on the body’s hormone-controlled endocrine system.

Today’s settlement stemmed from a lawsuit filed by NRDC and its co-plaintiffs against EPA in August 1999. The suit charged that the agency:

  • missed its congressionally mandated deadline of August 3, 1999, under the FQPA to review the most dangerous pesticides to ensure they are safe for infants and children;

  • failed to implement a program to test whether pesticides harm the body’s endocrine system; and

  • missed deadlines for reviewing nearly 200 pesticides registered before 1984 under 1988 amendments to FIFRA.

The FQPA recognizes that exposures to pesticides come in a variety of ways and from a great number of chemicals, and requires EPA to consider the vulnerability of fetuses, infants and children when determining "tolerances"—the maximum level of pesticide residues allowed on food. This child-protective standard was adopted after a 1993 National Academy of Sciences study, "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children," found that EPA’s approach to regulating pesticides failed to address the special risks pesticides pose to children.

The FQPA required EPA to review one-third of all existing tolerances by August 3, 1999. In addition, the so-called "worst first" provision of the law required that EPA give priority to those chemicals that pose "the greatest risk to public health." EPA announced on August 4, 1997, that it would first review "the riskiest pesticides … includ[ing] those used in foods most eaten by children." In addition, the agency stated that it would review all organophosphate insecticide tolerances by August 3, 1999, which it failed to do.

In response to concerns raised by certain animal rights advocates, Olson noted that the settlement includes provisions acknowledging that EPA should use validated non-animal tests when they are available, feasible and scientifically appropriate.