Washington, DC — In an unprecedented action, representatives for thousands of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists are publicly objecting to imminent agency approval for a score of powerful, controversial pesticides, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The scientists cite “compelling evidence” which EPA leadership is choosing to ignore that these “pesticides damage the developing nervous systems of fetuses, infants and children.”
On August 3, 2006, EPA faces a deadline for issuing final tolerance approval for 20 organophosphate and carbamate pesticides. In a letter dated May 24, 2006, leaders of three unions (American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union and Engineers and Scientists of California) representing 9,000 scientists, risk managers and other specialists asked EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to either adopt maximum exposure protections for these agents or take them off the market.
Organophosphates, derived from World War II-era nerve agents, are banned in England, Sweden and Denmark. In the 1990’s the National Academies of Science criticized EPA’s regulation of these pesticides. The Clinton administration began moves to ban the agents but the Bush administration changed course. In the past few months, the Bush administration approach has been faulted by both EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Panel and its Office of Inspector General.
In their letter, the EPA scientists charge that agency “risk assessments cannot state with confidence the degree to which any exposure of a fetus, infant or child to a pesticide will or will not adversely affect their neurological development.” In addition, the scientists contend that –
- “Our colleagues in the Pesticide Program feel besieged by political pressure exerted by Agency officials perceived to be too closely aligned with the pesticide industry and former EPA officials now representing the pesticide and agricultural community”;
- “In the rush to meet the August 2006 …deadline, many steps in the risk assessment and risk management process are being abbreviated or eliminated in violation of the principles of scientific integrity and objectivity…”; and
- The prevailing “belief among managers in the Pesticide and Toxics Programs [is] that regulatory decisions should only be made after reaching full consensus with the regulated pesticide and chemicals industry.”
Notwithstanding the scientific uncertainty and controversy, EPA has announced that is approving one of the most toxic agents, dichlorvos or DDVP, for household use in pet flea collars and no-pest strips.
“Our top public scientists are morally and professionally compromised by the Bush administration partnership with the chemical industry,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing, for example, to EPA’s rush to embrace testing of pesticides and other chemicals on human subjects for commercial purposes. “The fact that this letter had to be sent at all is an utter disgrace but, even more disgraceful, is the likelihood that this warning will be disregarded by an agency that is supposed to be protecting public health and the environment.”