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What the Biden Administration Should Do To Protect Children From Toxic Pesticides

Friday, January 22, 2021

No presidential administration was as damaging to children’s health as Donald Trump’s.

That is particularly true when you look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s record on pesticides under Trump.

The administration of President Joe Biden has a mountain of work to do to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration. It should begin by taking swift action to ban and restrict the toxic pesticides the Trump administration allowed in agriculture and on food. 

Some of the most harmful pesticides approved for use in the U.S. have been banned or restricted by other major agricultural producing countries, such as the members of the European Union, Brazil and China.

Tests by the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and independent scientists show that many of these same pesticides are commonly detected on fruits, vegetables and other foods that infants and children often eat. These pesticides are also sprayed in high volumes, threatening drinking water supplies and posing a serious risk to the health of farmworkers and residents

To make matters worse, Trump’s EPA reversed efforts by the Obama administration to ban and restrict toxic pesticides such as chlorpyrifos and aldicarb. 

So what should the Biden administration do?

Here are 11 pesticides and classes of pesticides whose use the new administration should immediately target.

Pesticides the Biden Administration Should Ban or Restrict

Pesticide

Toxicity

Prohibitions or Restrictions[1]

Detections in Food[2]

Chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates[3]

Neurotoxicity, including harm to brain development and impaired children’s IQ

Chlorpyrifos: not approved in the EU;

use significantly restricted in Canada;

banned in California, New York and Hawaii; use restricted in Oregon.

 

Other organophosphates are banned or heavily restricted in the EU.

Hot peppers, frozen strawberries, radishes, cilantro, wheat flour, celery, apple, carrots, peppers, basil, sweet peas, snap peas, green beans, cherries, sweet potatoes, peach, blueberries, lettuce

Glyphosate

Cancer; harm to the reproductive system and development

 

Oats and other grains as well as chickpeas and other beans and legumes

Dacthal/DCPA

Cancer; thyroid disruption

Not approved in the EU

Kale, spinach, cilantro, mustard greens, radishes, collard greens, snap peas, green onions, broccoli

2,4-D

Cancer

Banned in Vietnam, Norway and Mozambique

Not tested by USDA, mostly used on GMO crops

Dicamba

Cancer

 

Not tested by USDA, mostly used on GMO crops

Atrazine and other triazines (e.g., simazine and propazine)

Cancer; harm to the reproductive system and development

Banned in 31 countries, including EU member countries

Primarily used on corn but has been detected on mustard greens and basil and found in drinking water

Imazalil

Cancer

The EU considering restrictions on citrus

Citrus and bananas

Iprodione

Cancer; harm to the reproductive system and development

Not approved in the EU; use restricted in Canada

Frozen strawberries, kiwi, grapes, cherries, peaches, nectarines

Paraquat

Neurotoxicity, associated with Parkinson’s disease and may harm the developing brain

Not approved in the EU

Not tested by USDA, mostly used on row crops

Aldicarb

Neurotoxicity, may harm the developing brain

Banned in 103 countries

Detected on citrus and potatoes in earlier testing, when use was allowed on these crops

PFAS

Low birth weight, cancer, endocrine disruption and weakened childhood immunity

 

Tests on a limited number of fluorinated plastic containers used by one pesticide product supplier show presence of at least 9 PFAS compounds.

 
Source: EWG, from USDA Pesticide Data Program and Pesticide Action Network International’s Consolidated List of Banned Pesticides

 

Ban chlorpyrifos and all remaining uses of organophosphate insecticides

Even at low levels, exposure to organophosphate insecticides like chlorpyrifos can impair children’s IQ and harm a child’s brain. Chlorpyrifos is banned in the EU as well as in California, Hawaii and New York, and Canada has banned most outdoor uses. Organophosphate residues are found on fruits and vegetables routinely fed to children, and some are used in residential settings, which is particularly risky for children’s health.

In an executive order released on Wednesday, President Biden directed the EPA to review the decision to reverse the ban on chlorpyrifos, among other toxic chemicals.

The Biden EPA should immediately reinstate the Obama administration’s ban of chlorpyrifos and ban all uses of the organophosphate class of insecticides.

Restrict the use of glyphosate on oats and wheat, and ban toxic surfactants

Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the U.S., has been linked to cancer by the World Health Organization and California state scientists. Used mostly on genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans, it is also commonly used to dry out crops just before harvest. EWG has found residues of glyphosate on foods containing oats and chickpeas that are commonly fed to children.

In 2018, EWG and a number of food companies petitioned the EPA to demand the agency limit glyphosate residues allowed on oats and prohibit its use as a pre-harvest drying agent on oats. The Biden EPA should immediately stop the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant or harvest aid, particularly on oats and chickpeas, and prohibit unsafe levels of glyphosate residues on these foods.

In addition, the EU and the United Kingom have taken steps to phase out the use of toxic ingredients in glyphosate-based herbicides known as surfactants, particularly polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, which can increase the toxicity of glyphosate and its absorption through the skin, putting the health of farmworkers and pesticide applicators at risk. The Biden administration should follow suit by banning glyphosate-based formulations containing POEA and other toxic surfactants, and update product labels to include health warnings.

Ban the herbicide dacthal

Dacthal, also known as DCPA, is a herbicide detected on nearly 60 percent of kale samples tested by the USDA, and less frequently on lettuce, spinach, broccoli and snap peas. It is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA and is likely also an endocrine disruptor. It is banned in the EU, and a ban was recommended in Washington state based on its capacity to contaminate drinking water supplies.

Prohibit post-emergent applications of the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba

“Post-emergent” weedkillers are sprayed after weeds have sprouted, rather than beforehand to prevent their growth. The EPA approved such uses of the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba in an effort to fight the epidemic of glypohosate-resistant weeds that have overtaken farm fields as a result of widespread adoption of GMO crops. But both herbicides are notorious for drifting long distances from GMO fields, where they damage neighboring crops and increase exposures for farmworkers and residents.

Ban the herbicide atrazine and other triazines

Atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S., is banned in the EU. In 2016, California added atrazine and related herbicides, including simazine and propazine, to its official list of chemicals known to be toxic to human development and to harm the female reproductive system. EWG estimates that 44 million Americans have atrazine in their drinking water, including 16 million whose water is contaminated at levels above a health-protective guideline.

Ban the fungicides iprodione and imazalil

The EPA should ban the use of iprodione and imazalil, two fungicides categorized as likely human carcinogens that have been banned or heavily restricted or are under consideration for restrictions by other countries, including the EU and Canada. Risk assessments by the EPA’s own scientists estimate that exposure to these pesticides for adults and children exceeds levels of concern.

Ban the herbicide paraquat

Paraquat is a neurotoxic herbicide associated with increased risk for Parkinson’s disease that has been prohibited in the EU since 2007, yet its use in the U.S. has steadily increased. EWG estimates that 1.2 million people in Texas have paraquat in their drinking water. Accidental exposures to paraquat can result in severe acute health harms, and farmworkers are especially at risk from continued paraquat use.

Ban the insecticide aldicarb

Aldicarb is a neurotoxic insecticide that may cause harm to the developing brain. Its use is banned in more than 100 countries. Use of aldicarb dropped after 2010 Bayer CropScience, then the sole U.S. manufacturer, agreed to a phaseout. However, use of aldicarb was never banned and has steadily risen since a new company, AgLogic Chemical Co., secured manufacturing rights. In November 2020, AgLogic applied for new proposed registrations for use in Florida and Texas, and the Trump EPA approved those uses in Florida. 

Ban “forever chemicals” in pesticides

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility recently documented the presence in pesticides of the fluorinated “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, which are linked to low birth weight, endocrine disruption and weakened childhood immunity, with children and pregnant women particularly vulnerable. Recent tests by the EPA on a limited number of fluorinated plastic containers used by one pesticide product found at least nine PFAS chemicals.

The EPA should take steps to address this serious health threat, including banning PFAS in pesticide containers, screening of pesticides for impurities like PFAS, and discontinuing use of two “inert” PFAS ingredients. 

Many of these regulatory measures are long overdue – predating the Trump administration – and are necessary to protect human health, especially children’s health, and in keeping with protections in other nations. Beyond specific actions on certain pesticides, much more still needs to be done to improve how the EPA reviews and regulates pesticides.

For instance, the agency should use all available peer-reviewed epidemiological studies and apply the Food Quality Protection Act Safety Factor for all pesticides of concern, as EWG has suggested. These pesticides of concern include those designed to replace older, more toxic ones, like neonicotinoids, which can be detected in the urine of nearly half of American children.

Pesticide labels should be bilingual and include warnings when the chemicals are linked to cancer or other serious health harms. And along with other federal agencies, the EPA should more frequently track pesticide use as well as occurence on foods and in sources of drinking water.

Compared with what other countries have done to protect vulnerable populations from pesticides, it’s clear that the U.S. has been behind the curve for too long. It’s time to catch up.


[1] http://pan-international.org/pan-international-consolidated-list-of-banned-pesticides/

[3] Organophosphates include chlorpyrifos, terbufos, dichlorvos, malathion, diazinon, acephate, dimethoate, phosmet, bensulide, tribufos, dicrotophos, phorate, ethoprop (ethoprophos), naled, chlorethoxyfos, tetrachlorvinphos

 

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