Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility  [Printer-friendly version]
May 24, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The presidents of the unions representing
scientists and technical staff of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) have written to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson
urging him to adopt a precautionary approach to children's exposure
to pesticides when setting allowable exposures under the the Food
Quality Protection Act. This is not the same as a blanket endorsement
of the precautionary principle, but it's a step in the right

Stephen L. Johnson, Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Administrator Johnson:

We Local Presidents of EPA Unions representing scientists, risk
managers, and related staff, are writing to express our concern that
EPA could betray the public trust by violating the intention of the
Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) to protect the Nation's infants,
children, and susceptible subpopulations, unless the Agency adheres to
principles of scientific integrity and sound science in the pesticide
tolerance reassessments it is undertaking.

There are more than 20 neurotoxic organophosphate (OP) and carbamate
pesticides scheduled for final tolerance decisions by EPA no later
than August 3, 2006, as required by the FQPA. During the 1990s, the
Agency reached partial cancellation agreements with the registrants of
+certain OP pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, methyl parathion, and
diazinon, based on compelling information that these neurotoxic
pesticides damage the developing nervous system of fetuses, infants
and children (an effect known as "developmental neurotoxicity").

Those actions were consistent with the overarching precautionary
intent of FQPA which requires that, in the absence of reliable data on
toxicity or exposure, the Agency must ensure an adequate margin of
safety for the health of the nation's infants, children, and
susceptible subpopulations through the use of uncertainty factors in
relevant analysis.

Accordingly, as EPA approaches the August 2006 statutory deadline for
the determination of final tolerances for the remaining OP and
carbamate pesticides, we urge the Agency to adhere to its principles
of scientific integrity and employ the precautionary approach intended
by the FQPA in assessing the cumulative and aggregate exposure and
risk from the uses of these neurotoxicants. This approach --
compliance with the FQPA and our principles of scientific integrity --
is the only way to remain faithful to the public trust and ensure that
our children will not be exposed to pesticides that may permanently
damage their brains and nervous systems.

The partial cancellation agreements of the 1990's mostly addressed
residential exposures, but did not adequately consider continued
exposure through foods eaten. As risk assessors, we continue to be
troubled by the Agency's failure to adequately consider exposure to
neurotoxic pesticides by infants and children who commonly enter
fields treated with these pesticides while accompanying their parents
employed to perform post-application tasks. The children of
farmworkers, living near treated fields, are also repeatedly exposed
through pesticide drift onto outdoor play areas and through exposure
to pesticide residues on their parents' hair, skin, and clothing.

Additionally, we are concerned that unborn fetuses may also be exposed
to these neurotoxicants when pregnant women are employed to handle
(mix, load, apply) these pesticides or are employed to enter treated
areas to perform hand labor tasks following pesticide applications.

The Agency's own Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) has expressed concern
that the Pesticide Program's current approaches may not be
sufficiently conservative, may underestimate the risks to infants and
children, and do not adequately identify individuals that may be
inherently sensitive to neurotoxicants. (May 25, 1999 SAP meeting)

We are confident that you share our sense of urgency about taking the
necessary actions to protect the health of our Nation's children. As
you are aware, in August 1999, EPA informed the public that it was
issuing data call-in notices to pesticide registrants of
cholinesterase-inhibiting OP pesticides and requiring submission of
data on developmental neurotoxicity.

We are concerned that the Agency has not, consistent with its
principles of scientific integrity and sound science, adequately
summarized or drawn conclusions about the developmental neurotoxicity
data received from pesticide registrants. Our colleagues within the
Agency, including EPA's Inspector General (EPA IG), believe that it
would be premature to conclude that there is a complete and reliable
database on developmental neurotoxicity of pesticides (see Attachment)
upon which to base any final tolerance reassessment decisions as
required by the FQPA. Consequently, EPA's risk assessments cannot
state with confidence the degree to which any exposure of a fetus,
infant or child to a pesticide will or will not adversely affect their
neurological development.

As you also know, in the absence of a robust body of data, FQPA
requires EPA to use an additional 10-fold safety factor in its risk
assessments when setting pesticide tolerances. Thus both statutory
language and sound science require that the Agency continue to retain
the 10-fold safety factor as a precaution when reassessing the
tolerances for the remaining OP and carbamate pesticides given the
existing uncertainty about developmental neurotoxicity.

Many influential proponents of agriculture have repeatedly expressed
their concerns to EPA about properly coordinating with agricultural
stakeholders, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and producers
when implementing FQPA. It appears that the Agency has inadvertently
taken this to mean that the concerns of agriculture and the pesticide
industry come before our responsibility to protect the health of our
Nation's citizens. We are concerned that the Agency has lost sight of
its regulatory responsibilities in trying to reach consensus with
those that it regulates, and the result is that the integrity of the
science upon which Agency decisions are based has been compromised.

Our colleagues in the Pesticide Program feel besieged by political
pressure exerted by Agency officials perceived to be too closely
aligned with the pesticide industry and former EPA officials now
representing the pesticide and agricultural community; and by the USDA
through their Office of Pest Management Policy. Equally alarming is
the belief among managers in the Pesticide and Toxics Programs that
regulatory decisions should only be made after reaching full consensus
with the regulated pesticide and chemicals industry.

In the rush to meet the August 2006 FQPA statutory deadline, many
steps in the risk assessment and risk management process are being
abbreviated or eliminated in violation of the principles of scientific
integrity and objectivity by which we as public servants are bound.
Congress specifically asked EPA to take reasonable action to reduce
the risk of pesticides for infants and children where existing uses
posed a concern. We should honor the charge from Congress to protect
the public health, unencumbered by political influences; therefore, at
this time, we do not believe that the Agency should make any final
tolerance reassessment decisions.

We therefore request the following:

1. Where data are insufficient for decision-making, that you make
decisions based on the Precautionary Principle and add appropriate
uncertainty factors to protect human health in conformity with the
FQPA and our principles of scientific integrity.

2. Where developmental neurotoxicity studies are absent, it is
imperative that the Agency continue to retain the 10-fold safety
factor -- if not increase it -- as a precaution, when making final
reregistration decisions for OP and carbamate pesticides.

3. That EPA issue an interim reregistration decision mandating that
maximum protections -- engineering controls for handlers and longer
re-entry intervals for postapplication labor- be put into place for
agricultural uses of these pesticides; where this is not feasible,
cancel these registrations, as EPA promised before. EPA issued PR
Notice 2000-9 in 2000 to this effect (Worker Risk Mitigation for
Organophosphate Pesticides) but then never carried through on this.

In its response to comments on this PR notice, EPA stated that the
Agency will seek cancellation of uses if available risk mitigation
measures, such as engineering controls and extended REI's, do not
provide an adequate margin of safety and the risks outweigh the

Six years is an unacceptably long wait. It is time to act now, and act

4. That you take steps to ensure that the Agency consider non-
pesticide chemicals -- industrial and commercial -- in the same manner
as pesticides with regard to their potential impact on the health of
our nation's children.

Administrator Johnson, we ask that you adhere to your pledge to
protect the public health of our nation's infants and children, ensure
that final tolerance reassessment decisions are unbiased by outside
political influences, and that any decisions be based on a transparent
and complete database in conformity with the law, sound science, and
our principles of scientific integrity. Until EPA can state with
scientific confidence that these pesticides will not harm the
neurological development of our nation's born and unborn children,
there is no justification to continue to approve the use of the
remaining OP and carbamate pesticides.

The undersigned take our civil service oath very seriously. We believe
that it would be a perversion of the constitutional process and
betrayal of the public trust for the agency to fail to adhere to the
mandates of the FQPA. We recognize that under the Constitution our
role is only to provide the above advice to you, while your role is to
faithfully execute the laws entrusted to your administration. We
believe that by providing this advice in the strongest possible terms
we are fulfilling our duty and helping you to fulfill yours.

Very sincerely yours,


Dwight A. Welch, President,

NTEU Chapter 280, Washington, DC


Dave Christenson, President

AFGE Local 3607, Denver


Larry Penley, President

NTEU Chapter 279, Cincinnati


Patrick Chan, President

NTEU Chapter 295, San Francisco


Paul Scoggins, President

AFGE Local 1003, Dallas


Steve Shapiro, President

AFGE Local 3331, Washington, DC


Mark Coryell, President

AFGE Local 3907, Ann Arbor


Wendell Smith, President

ESC EPA -- Unit San Francisco


John O'Grady, President

AFGE Local 704, Chicago

Attachment 1

Examples of support for the conclusion that EPA cannot yet ensure that
fetuses, infants and children will not suffer developmental
neurotoxicity from exposure to neurotoxic pesticides:

(1) The January 10, 2006 Office of Inspector General Report,
"Opportunities to Improve Data Quality and Children's Health through
the Food Quality Protection Act" states that:

EPA's required pesticide testing does not include sufficient
evaluation of behavior, learning or memory in developing animals.

EPA has no standard evaluation procedure for interpreting results from
DNT tests.

EPA has not yet summarized or drawn conclusions about DNT which it has
collected for pesticides.

(2) Not all scientists are in agreement with EPA that developmental
effects of the OP pesticide chlorpyrifos occur only at doses above
those which cause cholinesterase inhibition, or even that they occur
exclusively through the mechanism of cholinesterase inhibition. (see
for example: Cholinergic systems in brain development and disruption
by neurotoxicants: nicotine, environmental tobacco smoke,
organophosphates, Toxicol. Pharmacol.198: 132-151 (2004; Guidelines
for developmental neurotoxicity and their impact on organophosphate
pesticides: a personal view from an academic perspective,

Neurotoxicology 25(4): 631-640 (2004).

(3) EPA has data demonstrating that the immature are more sensitive to
the OP pesticide malathion than adults (see for example Developmental
Neurotoxicity Study in Rats, August 22, 2002. Memorandum. MRID
45646401; and Special Study, Effects on Cholinesterase Inhibition in
Adult & Juvenile CD Rats, Companion Study to Developmental
Neurotoxicity Study 870.6300., Tox Review No. 0050550, MRID No.

(4) EPA has also received, but has not released for review by the SAP
or external parties, data suggestive of direct effects of malathion on
brain structure concurrent with cholinesterase inhibition and changes
in behavior (personal communication, Dr. Brian Dementi; see also
paragraphs #8, 9,11,12,13, and 17 of the June 20, 2005 letter to you
from Dr. Dementi in which he advised you of these concerns).

(5) More data are accumulating indicating differential sensitivity to
other OP pesticides greater than the 10-fold safety factor required by
FQPA (see for example Paraoxonase polymorphisms, haplotypes and enzyme
activity in Latino mothers and newborns, Pharmacogenetics and Genomics
16: 183-190 (2006).