EPA accused of putting industry interests before public health

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being put under pressure by a number of states to be transparent, especially when it comes to insisting pesticide manufacturers disclose all the ingredients on their product labels.

Fourteen states want to force the Bush administration to demand the EPA makes manufacturers disclose even "inert" ingredients in pesticides that they say pose health hazards.

The formal request for requiring labeling changes, which could precede a lawsuit, is being sought by attorney generals in New York, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and the Virgin Islands.

The petition includes 40 pages of scientific data and legal precedent that the state officials say support their case and is demanding the EPA agrees to assess the chemicals within 60 days.

At present manufacturers are only required to divulge the "active" toxic ingredients that kill insects and weeds on their labels.

Although the EPA says it has almost completed a 10-year study of all pesticides used in the U.S. which supposedly guarantees the safety of products, critics believe the EPA's interpretation of its responsibilities under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act is inadequate and is politically biased towards the pesticide industry.

Inert or inactive ingredients, are used to make the active chemicals more effective, and they are known or suspected to cause cancer, nervous system disorders, liver and kidney damage, and birth defects as well as environmental damage.

Many chemicals such as organophosphates and carbamates are used in pesticides and pose serious risks for fetuses, pregnant women, young children and the elderly through food.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer says he can see no reason why the EPA should demand disclosure of those ingredients that harm pests, but exempt from disclosure other ingredients that cause serious health and environmental problems.

The EPA insists that U.S. pesticides meet the highest standards in the world, and says it has evaluated 237 pesticide ingredients, and checked 1,100 of 1,105 pesticides used in the U.S.

By law, the EPA must complete its 10-year review this week and based on that review, the pesticide Lindane will be banned as soon as its current license expires, say agency officials.

According to the Pesticide Action Network North America, which is campaigning to limit pesticide use, Lindane is already banned in more than 52 countries, and its use is restricted in more than 33 others.

Lindane is currently used in the United States, Canada and Mexico and the U.S. still allows seeds for corn, wheat and a handful of other grains to be treated with Lindane; 64 tonnes of Lindane are used agriculturally each year.

It is also used to control head lice and scabies in the United States and Canada, but can cause seizures and damage to the nervous system and weaken the immune system.

Studies have also shown a significant association between brain tumors in children and the use of Lindane-containing lice shampoos and the insecticide is also a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor.

According to the EPA the agency's new standards for pesticides protect the public, those who work with pesticides, and the environment.

In addition, the EPA plans to enact a new rule that would make a review for pesticides registration mandatory every 15 years.

A letter to the EPA (New York Times May 24) from unions representing thousands of EPA staff scientists has accused the agency of "bending to political pressure from the pesticide industry and ignoring sound science in allowing a group of toxic chemicals to be used in agricultural pesticides.

The letter says it appears that the concerns of agriculture and the pesticide industry have been placed before a responsibility to protect the health of U.S. citizens.

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