EPA Seeks To Expand Use of Toxic Pesticide 2,4-D

Washington, D.C. – A plan under consideration by the Obama administration would result in at least a three-fold increase in use of the toxic herbicide 2,4-D on American corn and soybean fields.  The ubiquitous crop chemical has been linked to serious health problems, including Parkinson’s disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to permit Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company to sell an extraordinarily potent weed-killer called Enlist® Duo, a new formulation that contains both 2,4-D and glyphosate, the herbicide in Monsanto’s notorious weed-killer RoundUp.  Enlist® Duo is designed to kill the new generation of so-called “superweeds” that have adapted to withstand blasts of RoundUp alone.  Dow AgroSciences has developed Enlist® Duo to be used alongside its new breeds of genetically engineered corn and soybeans designed to tolerate both chemicals. If the plan offered by EPA is adopted it would result in the largest expansion of an herbicide use in more than three decades.

“The Obama administration has not done the necessary scientific research to determine the health and environmental risks of large-scale expansion of 2,4-D spraying on crops,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, a senior policy analyst with EWG. "The EPA has made numerous and serious scientific errors, among them, failing to apply the key safety factor required by the federal food pesticide law when a chemical presents potential risks specific to children.”  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is engaged in a separate decision-making process aimed at determining whether to allow Dow to sell its new GE corn and soybeans resistant to 2,4-D and glyphosate.  The USDA’s draft Environmental Impacts Statement says that if they are allowed on the market, by 2020, annual 2,4-D use on crops could rise to between 77.8 and 176.2 million pounds annually.  This would represent 3 and 7 times the usage recorded in 2011, when about 25.6 million pounds of 2,4-D were sprayed on U.S. crops.  

Today, Americans are also exposed to 2,4-D through herbicides applied to lawns, turf grass and other non-agricultural applications.

In its public comments to EPA, EWG wrote that “the potential for great expansion of 2,4-D use requires a much greater level of scrutiny, which EPA has failed to apply in the proposed registration decision for 2,4-D and which EPA must remedy by conducting a reassessment of 2,4-D exposures and toxicity.”

EWG pointed out a number of major flaws in the EPA risk assessment for 2,4-D, including:

1.     Failing to apply the additional safety factor of 10, as mandated under Food Quality Protection Act, for cases in which children are shown to be more vulnerable than adults;

2.     Omitting from aggregate exposure assessment the likelihood of 2,4-D inhalation, one of the primary routes of pesticide exposure for communities in the vicinity of sprayed fields;

3.     Disregarding endocrine toxicity and immunotoxicity findings from animal studies;

4.     Failing to protect endangered species from 2,4-D by making an unfounded claim that 2,4-D would stay confined to sprayed farm fields -- an assumption that contradicts actual spraying practices and field application conditions;

5.     Failing to follow EPA’s own guidance document for honeybee toxicity assessment and thereby underestimating the risks to bees and other beneficial insects.

6.     Basing the safety standard on seriously flawed assumptions around what the lowest dose of 2,4-D is toxic to lab animals; the dose that EPA chose as the “no observed adverse effects level” was found to cause harm to young animals, as was a dose that was three times lower. 

“The mountain of evidence linking 2,4-D with serious health problems in people, including cancer, should stop wholesale approval of the largest expansion of toxic herbicide spraying in decades,” Kustin said.

Members of the public can make comments to EPA about its pending decision until the end of this month. To read EWG’s full comments to the agency, click here.

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