Attack of the Killer Weeds: Introduction
On August 3, 1996 Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), enacting sweeping new protections from pesticides for infants and children. Less than a week later, EPA installed a team of regulatory specialists to ensure the smooth functioning of Section 18 of the nation’s pesticide law (US EPA 1996), a provision that provides exemptions from nearly all health and safety standards for the use of unregistered, banned, or restricted pesticides on food crops where they otherwise would be prohibited.
Prompt action seemed necessary because FQPA, for the first time, required that emergency exemptions meet the same safety standard as all other pesticide uses, and that the EPA issue a limit, or tolerance, for pesticide residues in food that would result from these exemptions. Prior to the FQPA, no tolerances were required for Section 18 exemptions and children’s health was not a consideration.
Because of the complexity of the new children’s health protections required by the FQPA, Congress gave the EPA three years to issue its first set of regulations under the new law. As the three-year deadline passed on August 3, 1999, the EPA had completed refined children’s risk assessments for exactly 2 pesticides. Even these reviews did not fully meet the standards of the law. EPA only examined the dietary risk of single pesticides, not fulfilling the FQPA requirement that all routes of exposure be considered and that risks from pesticides with common toxic mechanisms be combined.
Three years was not enough time for EPA to revise regulations for pesticides to comply with the children’s health standards of FQPA. Yet somehow, less than 3 weeks after enactment of FQPA, the EPA granted its first Section 18 exemption, theoretically in compliance with the broad new FQPA requirements to protect children’s health (US EPA 1996)
Proposed new rules for the Section 18 program make it clear, however, that these exemptions were not supported by complete and adequate data necessary to determine the full risk of the pesticide to children as required by FQPA. For fully registered pesticide uses, a complete scientific database proving safety for children is required by rules formalized in volume 40 part 158 of the Code of Federal Regulations. In contrast:
The Agency recognized that adhering rigidly to all data specified in 40 CFR part 158, as they currently exist and as they may be modified in the future, would effectively remove Section 18 as a mechanism to address emergency pest situations. Review and decisions would not be made in a timely or responsive fashion, and the process of data collection, submission and review would be equivalent to that required to establish a permanent tolerance. This would be unduly burdensome to the applicants that request emergency exemptions (USEPA 1999).