Environmental News

Why the Pesticide Law Needs Reforming

Caution sign warns of pesticide use in the area

Enacted in 1947, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act updated the Federal Insecticide Act (FIFRA) of 1910. It regulates pesticide sale, distribution, and use. A groundbreaking pesticide law in its day, it needs reforming. 

Senator Corry Booker introduced the Protect America’s Children from the Toxic Pesticides Act of 2021 (PACTPA) on November 23, 2021. The legislation would eliminate many of the problems associated with FIFRA, which has not been amended for 25 years.

“We applaud Sen. Booker for this bold and much-needed proposal to overhaul the nation’s pesticide law, which puts the health and safety of children, farmworkers, and all Americans first,” said Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group senior vice president for government affairs.

The U.S. uses over a billion pounds of pesticides every year, almost a fifth of worldwide use. Despite scientific evidence showing the harm they cause to human health or the environment, pesticides tend to remain on the market. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered over 100 pesticides that contain ingredients widely considered dangerous.

The improvements PACTPA would bring

PACTPA will amend FIFRA by improving it. One of the improvements is banning pesticides known to cause harm to human health and the environment:

  • Organophosphate pesticides, currently the most widely used chemical pesticides, are linked to adverse effects on cognitive development in children. Evidence suggests they affect fertility by lowering semen quality and possibly lowering testosterone levels.
  • Neonicotinoid pesticides affect the health of bees. Widely used on farms and urban landscapes, neonicotinoids are absorbed by plants and often present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to bees. They are linked to honey bee die-offs in North America and Europe.
  • According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paraquat is one of the most acutely toxic herbicides around. One little sip of the herbicide can kill. It poses a risk to mammals, birds, terrestrial invertebrates, terrestrial plants, and algae.

PACTPA also makes the removal of dangerous pesticides easier by:

  • Creating a petition process so that citizens can petition the EPA to identify hazardous pesticides and remove them. 
  • Closing loopholes have allowed the EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations to use certain pesticides before they have been fully vetted for health and safety by the federal agency.
  • Enabling local communities to enact protective legislation and other policies without state law preempting.
  • Suspending the use of pesticides that the EU or Canada have deemed unsafe until the EPA thoroughly reviews them. 

The legislation provides protections for communities exposed to pesticides by:

  • Requiring farmworkers to report all pesticide-caused injuries to the EPA and includes strong penalties for failure to report injuries or retaliating against workers. 
  • Directing the EPA to review pesticide injury reports and work with pesticide manufacturers to develop better labeling to prevent future injury.
  • Requiring all pesticide label instructions to be written in Spanish and any language spoken by more than 500 pesticide applicators. 

Problems with PACTPA

Beyond Pesticides points out several problems with PACTPA, claiming that it “does not touch the toxic core of FIFRA, which permits the unnecessary dispersal of toxic chemicals in the environment.” The organization recommends steps Congress should take to eliminate the toxic core of the FIFRA pesticide law. One of those steps is prohibiting the registration and use of pesticides that harm humans and the environment. Other recommended steps include requiring all supporting data to be submitted and examined by the public before registration and denying and canceling all pesticide registration posing threats to humans, the environment, and endangered species. 

 

Image credit: jetsandzeppelins, courtesy Flickr

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