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For Immediate Release, June 16, 2011

Contact:  Heather Pilatic, Pesticide Action Network, (415) 694-8596
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 669-7357

Alliance Calls for Stronger Measures to Protect Human Health, Wildlife From Dangerous Pesticides

WASHINGTONMore than 130 groups in 35 states, representing public health, food-security, sustainable-farming, farmworker and conservation interests called on the Environmental Protection Agency today to use all the tools at its disposal to protect public health and imperiled wildlife from harmful pesticides. The letter to the EPA, citing significant flaws in the pesticide registration process, comes as Congress considers legislation to weaken environmental protections and allow increased pesticide pollution.

“Pesticides pose a clear and preventable danger to our health and the environment. It’s time for the EPA to ensure pesticides no longer jeopardize human health, wildlife, the water we drink or the air we breathe,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress must do its part by stopping legislation sponsored by chemical corporations and their allies to strip important laws that safeguard future generations, farmworkers and wildlife from pesticide harms.”

The groups cite undue pesticide industry influence over EPA’s pesticide decisions under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)—as well as documented pesticide impacts such as endocrine disruption, cancers and reproductive disorders for humans and wildlife—in requesting increased protections from harmful pesticide use. Specifically, the groups urge EPA to use the “rigorous scientific review process and strong legal protections” of the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The pesticide industry has subverted the intended protections of U.S. pesticide law under FIFRA. That law is broken. If enforced, the Endangered Species Act offers strong protections for our most endangered wildlife, with human health benefits because it requires a more rigorous scientific review process less susceptible to industry influence,” said Heather Pilatic, co-director of Pesticide Action Network North America. “Current independent science indicates that the low-level mixtures of pesticides to which we are all exposed contribute to children’s rising rates of neurodevelopmental disease and certain cancers, and impact the biodiversity that keeps our planet resilient.”

Pesticide use in the United States is regulated primarily under FIFRA, a 1947 labeling law that was last significantly updated 40 years ago and has been subject to major pesticide industry and farm-lobby influence. The Endangered Species Act is a stronger statute that requires formal consultation with federal wildlife agencies to assess pesticide impacts and develop measures to avoid harm to endangered species. The EPA has completed very few of these consultations. The Clean Water Act also regulates pesticide pollution by requiring federal permits for discharges of contaminants that enter waterways, including pesticides. A bill currently under consideration in the Senate, however, would exempt pesticides from the Clean Water Act.

In January, the Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America filed the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled wildlife from pesticides. The suit seeks to compel the EPA to evaluate the impacts of hundreds of the most dangerous pesticides known to be harmful to more than 200 endangered and threatened species. The process would yield common-sense restrictions on some of the most harmful pesticides and safeguard human health (including for farmworkers and their families), drinking water and wildlife. Tellingly, Crop Life America, the pesticide industry’s main trade group, has stated that defeating this lawsuit is one of its top three lobbying priorities.

“Lobbying by pesticide interests to exempt pesticides from our strongest environmental laws will have cascading effects for generations,” said Pilatic. “Hundreds of groups have come together to call for more — not less — protection from pesticides.”

More than a billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the United States, and the EPA has registered more than 18,000 different pesticides for use. Scientific studies show widespread and pervasive pesticide contamination in groundwater, drinking water and wildlife habitats throughout the country. Farmers, farmworkers and their families, and rural communities face higher rates of Parkinson’s disease, many cancers, autoimmune disorders, neurodevelopmental problems and a host of other pesticide-linked diseases.

Through pesticide drift and runoff, pesticides can travel far from the areas where they are applied and into sensitive wildlife habitats. Some contaminated waterways are regularly subjected to toxic pulses of combinations of pesticides deadly to fish and other life. Pesticides are a particular threat to endangered species, biological diversity and pollinating insects and bats.

For decades the EPA has consistently failed to engage in required consultations to properly evaluate whether pesticides it registers are harmful to imperiled species. In 2004 the Center published Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species, detailing the EPA’s dismal record in protecting endangered species from pesticides. Lawsuits by conservation groups have forced the EPA to assess pesticide impacts on some endangered species, primarily in California, and resulted in temporary restrictions on pesticide use in sensitive habitats. In complying with court-ordered evaluations, the EPA has concurred that nearly every pesticide at issue is “likely to adversely affect” the at-risk species.

An example of the EPA failure to protect people and the environment is the controversial re-registration of the dangerous herbicide atrazine, a widespread pollutant of groundwater and drinking water that has been banned in the European Union. Atrazine chemically castrates male frogs at extremely low concentrations. Recent research also links atrazine to birth defects and endocrine disruption in humans, as well as significant harm to wildlife.

See an interactive map of endangered species threatened by pesticide use.
For a list of Frequently Asked Questions about pesticide registration and the lawsuit, click here.
Find out more about the Center’s Pesticides Reduction campaign.
Read information from PANNA on the environmental impacts of persistent poisons.

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