Groups claim EPA not protecting children from drift

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Environmental, health, and farm worker advocacy groups filed an Administrative Objection and a court appeal last week, challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “refusal to quickly correct errors in pesticide registrations and its refusal to immediately implement protective measures to safeguard children from exposure to dangerous pesticides that drift from fields during and after application.”

Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice are representing Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers of America, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos Del Noroeste, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sea Mar Community Health Center, Farm Labor Organizing Committee and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

The activists claim, “It took EPA more than four years and a court action to provide a response to a request to comply with existing law that requires the agency to protect kids from being exposed to pesticides that drift from fields and orchards. When they did finally respond, they refused the request to take immediate action to protect kids, instead leaving in place decisions and policies they admit are deficient.”

Earthjustice attorney Janette Brimmer said, “When EPA finally responded, they said that they would comply with the law in their own good time, which means potentially another eight years before mistakes are corrected and protections in place. EPA refused to require even the most minimal buffers around kids’ homes, schools or daycares—and failed to include the margin of safety in its risk calculations that is required by law.”

The groups filing the court appeal further contend, “Officials acknowledged in April that EPA had failed to consider drift in setting pesticide limits, contrary to legal requirements under the Food Quality Protection Act. EPA’s original deadline to complete this work under the act was 2006.  Despite admitting their mistake, EPA declined to implement immediate protections or alter their current plans and plodding timelines, which extend to 2022. Agency officials insist that the current approach to addressing and regulating pesticide drift is good enough.”

The farmworker and environmental advocacy groups that filed the petition firmly claim that the EPA has done nothing to meet their concerns about protection against drift.

“EPA's refusal to implement minimal interim protection measures is unconscionable and unsupported,” said Kristin Schafer, program and policy director for Pesticide Action Network, one of the plaintiffs in the suit and objection.

These petitioners have filed an administrative objection with EPA demanding the agency revise its response to their complaint by imposing “additional tenfold safety factors on various pesticide registrations while it completes revised risk assessment for children’s potential exposures to pesticide drift.” 

Part of the complaint and court action “seeks an order compelling EPA to immediately implement spray buffers to protect children’s homes, schools, day cares and play areas while EPA is completing the revised risk assessment.”

The group is using its concern about the insecticide chlorpyrifos as an illustration of what it says shows EPA not having adequate protection rules and not taking action now. “Recent science has shown that even low levels of exposure to the chemical can harm children's developing brains and nervous systems—and drift of the pesticide into homes and schools in rural areas is well-documented,” the announcement of the legal action said.

The farm worker organizations stepping into the foray is because the groups claim studies show that farm worker children are not only exposed to pesticides that drift in the air and contaminate the water in rural areas, but also face exposure from residues of the chemicals brought into the home on their parents’ work clothes and skin.

It is children’s health that is being exploited as the way to get the courts to come down on the EPA.

“The science is clear that children are more susceptible to pesticides,” said Barbara Gottlieb, director of environment and health at Physicians for Social Responsibility.  “EPA is aware of that elevated risk and yet—for years—has delayed taking necessary steps to protect children from pesticide drift.”

Virginia Ruiz, an attorney with Farmworker Justice, also representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said, “It’s time for the agency to take a stand for children’s health.”

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