A coalition of environmental and farm workers groups has now sued the US government over the continued use of four hazardous pesticides.
The legal action is being taken by groups including the United Farm Workers, the Teamsters, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The suit challenges the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2006 decision to reauthorize the use of four pesticides used on fruit and vegetable fields in California.
The coalition argue that the government has ignored its own evidence that the chemicals are toxic to farm workers, children, and animals.
The EPA was forced to reassess the safety of all pesticides used on foods by a 1996 federal law. The agency was to look at the available scientific evidence to determine if it was safe to authorize their use. They found that four pesticides posed substantial risks to human health but they concluded that the cost savings to farmers outweighed the human health risks.
It is reported that the four pesticides in question could be putting farm workers and their families at serious risk.
Ethoprop - Mainly used on potatoes, sugarcane, and tobacco crops. The suit charges that it has been linked to fish deaths and has also begun to drift from fields into nearby rural communities. Ethoprop has been officially classified as a carcinogen by California officials and the state now requires manufacturers to disclose this product labels. The state is powerless however to ban the pesticide outright because it is approved for use at the Federal level.
Methidathion - Used on artichokes, oranges, almonds, peaches and olives. It has been listed as an air contaminant by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation as they deem it to pose significant health risks.
Methamidophos - Mostly used on potatoes and cotton. Associated with bird deaths and has been banned or its use severely restricted in several countries over the past few years.
Oxydemeton-Methyl - Used on broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, corn, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Like methamidophos has been linked to bird deaths and there is now strong evidence of a link to human birth defects.
The Government Response
Tim Lyons, spokesperson for the EPA, reported that the agency would review the details pf the legal action and respond in court. He added that: "Our mission is to protect the environment and human health."
The farm workers and environmental groups may have a strong case however as the suit is based on the EPA's own safety data. It will be argued that the agency has put supposed cost benefits above the health of workers and the public, not to mention risks to the environment.
The EPA on the other hand may argue that Federal law gives it the authority to approve the continued use of potentially harmful pesticides such as these based on offsetting benefits. Predictably the major benefit the EPA has used in approving the continued use of these four pesticides is related to cost savings.
According to the coalition of pressure groups the EPA has failed to address studies demonstrating the specific dangers each pesticide poses to children. They say it has also not taken into adequate account the potential adverse effects on farm workers or the environment.
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives provided further evidence of the dangers that the use of pesticides in general pose in California and elsewhere. The study found that autism rates were strongly correlated with the distance families lived from agricultural land sprayed with pesticides. It also took into account exposures to mother and child from domestic and public pesticide use.