The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced their response to a lawsuit pressing them to better protect children from health-harming pesticides that drift from fields in rural areas.
Meeting a legal deadline this week, the agency acknowledged “children may experience higher levels of pesticide exposure relative to their size than do adults," and that EPA had failed to consider drift by a 2006 deadline under the Food Quality Protection Act. However, they declined to make any significant changes to their current plans, insisting that the current approach to addressing and regulating pesticides drift is good enough. Farmworker and environmental advocacy groups that filed the original petition firmly disagree.
"We are deeply disappointed with this complete non-response from EPA," says Kristin Schafer, Program & Policy Director for Pesticide Action Network, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "The agency is completely disregarding the urgency of the risks these pesticides are posing, every day, to children's health."
The insecticide chlorpyrifos clearly illustrates the problem with EPA's assertion that current rules are adequately protective. Recent science has shown that even low levels of exposure to the chemical can harm children's developing brains and nervous system—and drift of the pesticide into homes and schools in rural areas is well documented. Under EPA's current regulations, this new science will be considered in the chemical review to be completed in several more years.
"We know kids are particularly vulnerable to pesticides in the first seven years of life," says Erik Nicholson, National Vice-President of the United Farm Workers, another plaintiff in the case. "EPA's refusal to act means another entire generation of children will be exposed to harmful pesticides—this is both unnecessary and unacceptable. And farmworker children currently bear and will bear the heaviest burden."
Studies show that farmworker children are not only exposed to pesticides that drift in the air and contaminate the water in rural areas, they also face exposure from residues of the chemicals brought into the home on their parents work clothes and skin.
"It is unconscionable that EPA forces citizens to go to court just to get a response to a valid petition to protect kids and then, after five years, says ‘eh, good enough’. EPA failed kids in the first instance and now says it’s okay to allow that state of affairs to continue for another decade or so," said Janette Brimmer of Earthjustice, who filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case.
"We’re evaluating any and all options to make sure that the nation’s children are protected from neurotoxic pesticides.”
Farmworker and public health advocates filed the lawsuit in July, seeking an answer to a petition that the advocates filed with the agency in 2009, urging EPA to set safety standards protecting children who grow up near farms from the harmful effects of pesticide drift. The original petition urged EPA to evaluate the impacts of pesticides on children and adopt interim prohibitions near places where children congregate. In their formal response to plaintiffs, officials refused to take any additional steps to establish protections.
“Five years later and EPA is no closer to protecting children from hazardous pesticide drift,” said Virginia Ruiz, an attorney with Farmworker Justice, also representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “It’s time for the Agency to take a stand for children’s health.”
Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext 1029
Paul Towers, PAN, (916) 216-1082
Virginia Ruiz, Farmworker Justice, (202) 800-2520
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