For Immediate Release, February 20, 2020


Stephanie Parent, (971) 717-6404,

Legal Petition Urges EPA to End Abuse of ‘Emergency’ Pesticide Exemptions

Chronic Exemptions for Unapproved Pesticides Imperil People, Pollinators

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal petition today calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to limit to two years the use of so-called “emergency” exemptions for pesticides otherwise unapproved as safe.

The petition asks the EPA to establish a rule restricting specific pesticide exemptions to no more than two years within any 10-year period. It was spurred by the agency’s habit of routinely approving “emergency” uses of unapproved pesticides — some for up to nine consecutive years.

“We have to end this backdoor pesticide-approval process that compromises the health of farmworkers, children and imperiled pollinators,” said Stephanie Parent, an attorney at the Center. “Limiting emergency approvals to two years will prevent the EPA from routinely sidestepping the health and safety reviews that determine whether a pesticide’s risks to people and wildlife are acceptable.”

A 2017 Center analysis of the EPA’s chronic abuse of emergency exemptions revealed the extent of the problem. Between 2011 and 2017, at least 78 emergency exemptions were granted for use of the dangerous, bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticide sulfoxaflor on millions of acres of cotton and sorghum crops.

The exemptions for sulfoxaflor are notable because previous approval of the pesticide’s use on cotton had been cancelled in 2015 due to its potential harm to pollinators.

Today’s petition seeks to end the EPA’s ongoing abuses of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which requires the agency to conduct safety reviews of pesticides before use.

In order to help farmers deal with unforeseeable problems such as an unusual pest infestation of crops, FIFRA contains an emergency exemption provision that allows the EPA to temporarily approve emergency use of a pesticide.

But the EPA has routinely abused the exemption provision by allowing emergency exemptions for predictable and chronic situations that occur over many consecutive years. In addition the agency often fails to provide any public notice or opportunity for input before approving the exemptions and routinely relies on the applicants as the primary — and sometimes only — source of information about the pesticide’s risks.

In 2019 the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General released a report finding that the agency’s practice of routinely granting “emergency” approval for pesticides across millions of acres does not effectively measure risks to human health or the environment.

Over the past year, the Trump EPA has quietly approved “emergency” use of the medically important antibiotic streptomycin on citrus crops like oranges, tangerines and grapefruits in Florida and California.

Those approvals ignore the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others that call for dramatic reductions in nonessential uses of antibiotics in order to reduce the escalating public health threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.