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Monday, October 4, 2010

Insecticide to be Banned says EPA-Decades After Poisoning Thousands

This News Story from Alternet Blog

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Insecticide To Be Banned, Decades 

After Poisoning Thousands

A farm chemical that caused the worst known outbreak 
of pesticide poisoning in North America is being phased 
But why did it take so long?

Photo Credit: USDA Photo by: Charles O'Rear
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Twenty-five years after the worst known 
outbreak of pesticide poisoning in U.S. history, an agreement is announced that phases out all uses of aldicarb. Manufacturer Bayer CropScience agreed to stop producing the highly toxic insecticide, 
used to kill pests on cotton and several food crops, by 2015 in all 
world markets. 
Use on citrus 
and potatoes 
will be prohibited after next year. 
EPA documents show that babies 
and children 
under 5 can 
levels of the insecticide 
through food 
and drinking 
water that 
exceed limits that the agency 
considers safe. “Aldicarb no longer meets our rigorous food safety standards and may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to 
infants and young children,” the EPA said. At least 2,000 people 
fell ill from eating California watermelons illegally contaminated 
with aldicarb on the Fourth of July in 1985. “It is good the revocation 
is happening; it is a shame it took 20 years,” said Richard Jackson, 
chair of environmental health sciences at UCLA, 
who was a top state health official during the outbreak.
A farm chemical with an infamous history -- causing the worst 
known outbreak of pesticide poisoning in North America -- is 
being phased out under an agreementannounced Tuesday by 
the Environmental Protection Agency.
Manufacturer Bayer CropScience agreed to stop producing 
aldicarb, a highly toxic insecticide used to kill pests on cotton 
and several food crops, 
by 2015 in all world 
Use on citrus and potatoes 
will be prohibited after 
next year.
Tuesday’s announcement comes 
25 years after a highly publicized outbreak of aldicarb poisoning 
sickened more than 2,000 people who had eaten California 
New EPA documents show that babies and children under five 
can ingest levels of the insecticide through food and water that 
exceed levels the agency considers safe.
“Aldicarb no longer meets our rigorous food safety standards 
and may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to infants 
and young children,” the EPA said in announcing the agreement.
For infants, consumption of aldicarb residue -- mostly in potatoes,
citrus and water – can reach 800 percent higher than the EPA’s 
level of concern for health effects, while children between the ages 
of one and five can ingest 300 percent more than the level of 
concern, according 
to an Aug. 4 
EPA memo.
In a statement
Bayer CropScience 
said Tuesday that its decision to agree to 
phase out aldicarb 
came after EPA’s 
new report calculated 
the health risks to children.
The company 
said it “respects the oversight authority of the EPA and is 
cooperating with them” even though it “does not fully agree” 
with the agency's new assessment. Bayer CropScience stressed 
that the analysis “does not mean that aldicarb poses an actual 
risk” to consumers.
One of the most acutely hazardous pesticides still used in the 
United States, aldicarb is a carbamate insecticide that is taken 
up by roots and carried into the fruit of a plant. High levels of 
aldicarb can have neurotoxic effects; it inhibits an enzyme that 
controls the transmission of messages to nerves.
“After thousands of poisonings, it is mind-boggling that aldicarb 
is still in use,” said Steve Scholl-Buckwald, managing 
director of the environmental group Pesticide Action 
Network North America. “The wheels just grind so, 
so slowly. It never should have been registered in the first 
place back in 1970 and by the mid-1980s there was 
sufficient data to suggest it should have been taken 
off the market.”
On the Fourth of July in 1985, three people who had eaten 
watermelon in Oakland, Calif., rapidly became ill with 
symptoms that included vomiting, diarrhea, muscle 
twitches and abnormally slow heart rates. At the same 
time, people in Oregon were falling ill, too, and tests 
of watermelons found extremely high levels of aldicarb, 
which was illegal to use on all melons.
California ordered an immediate ban on watermelon sales, 
which meant huge quantities had to be destroyed in fields 
and at stores at the height of the season. How aldicarb got into watermelons remains unknown, but experts suspected that 
some melon farmers used low levels of it intentionally and 
illegally and that some also might have flowed off nearby 
cotton fields.
That summer, a total of 1,350 cases of aldicarb poisoning 
from watermelon were reported in California, plus another 
692 cases in eight other states and Canada, according to a 
report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
Seventeen people were hospitalized. Six deaths and two 
stillbirths were reported in people who fell ill, but the 
pesticide was not listed as the cause of death in 
coroner reports.
To date, it remains the largest case of pesticide food 
poisoning documented in North America.
Richard Jackson, who was a top official in California’s health 
department at the time of the watermelon poisonings, testified 
at a U.S. Senate hearing back in 1991 that aldicarb posed a 
health risk to children and that regulations offered an 
inadequate margin of safety.
“It is good the revocation is happening; it is a shame it took 
20 years,” said Jackson, now chair of environmental health 
sciences at UCLA.
Dr. Lynn Goldman, an environmental health professor at 
Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public 
Health, also welcomed the agreement, noting that aldicarb 
has been under special review at the EPA for more than 
25 years.
“It is good to see that EPA and Bayer have now reached 
an agreement to phase out the remaining uses,” Goldman 
said Tuesday.
Goldman was an epidemiologist with California’s health 
department when the outbreak occurred.
“As a state health official, I wanted to see stronger action on 
aldicarb,” she said, adding that she and Jackson 
“recommended that aldicarb be banned in California, 
because of its potency and what seemed to be a large 
temptation for misuse. We obviously did not prevail.”
Aldicarb was the first of the so-called “dirty dozen” 
pesticides that Pesticide Action Network targeted in 1985 
for worldwide ban. At the time, it was found in bananas and 
in well water on Long 
Island, NY.
Scholl-Buckwald said that the EPA relies mostly on 
voluntary agreements, instead of bans, to avoid lawsuits from manufacturers.
“The system is designed to leave things like this on the 
market as long as possible. It’s innocent until proven guilty. It’s really 
unconscionable that it takes literally decades to do this,” he said.
Goldman in 1993 was named EPA assistant administrator 
overseeing pesticide programs, but she said Tuesday that 
even then, her efforts to restrict aldicarb were hamstrung by 
insufficient scientific evidence at the time and a weak 
pesticide law. She said she faced “the need to exercise 
due process in making sure that the company producing 
the chemical had a fair hearing.”
Years later, in 2007, the EPA concluded that there were 
“potential human health risks” from drinking-water contamination, 
as well as risks to birds and other wildlife. But the agency 
approved its continued use with added precautions, such 
as increased setbacks between fields and 
water wells and reduced amounts applied to crops.
Then, this month, the EPA revised its analysis using new 
toxicity data and determined that current uses meant babies 
and young children were at risk of being exposed to levels 
in water and food that exceeded the agency’s level of concern.
Aldicarb residues are found in grapefruit, oranges, orange 
juice, potatoes, frozen French fries and sweet potatoes. 
It already has been banned in bananas because of the 
potential for high exposure in children.
In the new analysis, children’s exposure from drinking water was estimated based on aldicarb use at cotton and peanut farms in Georgia.
“Potatoes, citrus and water are the greatest contributors to the aldicarb exposure,” the EPA document says.
Bayer researchers recently reported that water contamination has been minimal. They analyzed 1,673 drinking-water wells that were within 300 meters of fields treated with aldicarb, which has the trade name Temik, and found that none violated the EPA’s health advisory limit.
“For nearly 40 years, Temik has provided farmers with 
unsurpassed control of destructive pests, without compromising 
human health or environmental safety,” Bill Buckner, 
president and CEO of 
Bayer CropScience, said in a statement Tuesday.
While it is known that high exposure can cause vomiting, diarrhea and neurotoxic effects, the potential for chronic health effects from low exposure remains poorly understood. It is not carcinogenic, although researchers found a high rate of colon cancer in pesticide applicators exposed to high levels.
Its use has steeply declined in the U.S. over the past couple of 
decades, particularly on food crops. It is currently legal to use only on citrus, potatoes, dry beans, peanuts, soybeans, sweet potatoes, sugar 
beets and cotton. Its main use is to kill mites and nematodes on 
cotton, potatoes and citrus.
In 2008, about 75,000 pounds were applied to California crops
 -- almost entirely cotton - compared with more than half a million 
pounds in 1998, according to state Department of Pesticide 
Regulation data.
Union Carbide was the sole manufacturer of aldicarb until 1987.
 Its plant in Bhopal, India, was making aldicarb when a pesticide 
called methyl isocyanate leaked, killing several thousand people 
in 1984.
Aldicarb already has been banned in Europe, although it is 
still used, and perhaps manufactured, in other countries.
Under the new agreement, Bayer, the sole U.S. manufacturer, 
said its distribution will end by 2017. Use on citrus and potatoes 
will be banned beginning in 2012, and all remaining uses will 
end in 2018. 
In the meantime, new requirements will go into effect to change 
labeling and to protect ground water near cotton, soybean and 
peanut farms.
“We recognize the significant impact this decision will have 
on growers and the food industry, and will do everything possible to 
address their concerns during this transition,” Buckner said. He added, 
“We recognize the loss of this tool to growers and will seek innovative 
solutions to fill this void.”
But Scholl-Buckwald said he was disappointed that the 
agreement didn’t have earlier deadlines.
“After 40 years, the question is why should there be a 
phaseout period at all,” he said.
Marla Cone is the Editor in Chief of Environmental Health News.

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