States Sue Epa For Failing To Protect Children From Pesticides

New York Attorney General Spitzer, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly and New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey today sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to protect children from the risks of eating food containing excessive pesticide residues.

Children are far more susceptible to harm from pesticide residue on food because of their developing bodies and different diets. Prior to 1996, the EPA's limits on allowable food pesticide residues were based solely on data on adults. Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996 to change this practice and required EPA to ensure that pesticide residues are safe for children.

In this lawsuit, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey assert that EPA has failed to do so. The lawsuit focuses on five pesticides widely used on crops often consumed by children, but notes that the EPA has failed to set residue standards at levels safe for children on many other pesticides as well.

"Parents reasonably expect that every effort has been made by the federal government to ensure that pesticide residues in the food they give their children are safe," said New York Attorney General Spitzer. "This is not always the case. Sadly, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to meet Congressional requirements to protect children from the risks of consuming food with unhealthy pesticide residues."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumental said: "The EPA's failure to protect children from poisonous pesticides is unconscionable and unlawful. It makes everyday foods potential poison traps. Pesticides kill pests because they disrupt and destroy vital life systems - and can have the same toxic effects on children if their residues remain on food."

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said: "The EPA needs to do its job to ensure that the foods we are feeding our children are safe to eat. Federal law requires that the EPA set standards for allowable levels of pesticide residues - today's legal action is intended to protect our most vulnerable population, our children."

New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey said: "This lawsuit focuses on pesticides used on foods that parents feed their children every day, including corn, wheat, rice, peanuts, carrots, squash, apples and bananas. Congress sought to ensure that children would be safe from toxic pesticides by requiring strict residue standards. By waiving or reducing the additional safety factor in the absence of adequate scientific research, the EPA has potentially put children at risk."

More than 724 million pounds of pesticides are used each year by farmers in the United States to kill weeds and insects. The EPA approves these pesticides through a registration process, which, since 1996, must consider the unique health risks that pesticides pose to children, particularly in children's diets. Pesticides can cause a range of health problems including damage to the nervous system, cancer, reproductive dysfunction, and damage to the immune and endocrine systems. Some of these health problems occur at lower doses in children than in adults.

Children are particularly at risk when they consume food with excessive pesticide residue because they:

  • are undergoing rapid growth and development;
  • do not have mature metabolic functions to deal with the toxicity of the pesticide residues; and,
  • consume more food for their size than adults.

Because of the special susceptibility of infants and children to pesticides, the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act directed the EPA to set pesticide residue standards ten times stricter than those considered acceptable for adults. This tougher standard can be waived only when there is comprehensive scientific information showing that a lesser standard is still safe for children.

Child health and public health advocates applauded the lawsuit filed by the four states.

Erik Olson, Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council said: "We applaud the Attorneys General for suing the Bush Administration to protect our children from toxic pesticides. Unless the Bush administration is brought into court, it will continue to be more concerned with protecting the chemical industry and big agribusiness."

Ken Cook, President of Environmental Working Group, said: "We commend New York Attorney General Spitzer, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly and New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey for this historic litigation. It is unfortunate that the states had to file a lawsuit to get the Bush Administration to enforce a law designed to protect infants and children from toxic pesticides."

Dr. Philip Landrigan, Director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine said: "As a pediatrician who chaired the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, the committee that built the foundation for the Food Quality Protection Act, I am distressed that EPA is not following our committee's clear recommendation to presume in every case that children are uniquely vulnerable to pesticides. When no studies of the developmental toxicity of a pesticide have been undertaken, EPA should automatically incorporate a child-protective, FQPA safety factor into risk assessment. Too often, EPA has failed to take that critical step."

Jay Feldman, executive director of the national group Beyond Pesticides, said: "EPA is in violation of a basic tenet of law that is intended to protect children from pesticides, and was passed by Congress in response to overwhelming scientific evidence that children are very vulnerable to toxic exposure."

The New York Attorney General has analyzed and participated in the on-going regulatory review process at the EPA and determined that a number of pesticides were approved by the EPA without the mandatory stringent safety margin required to protect children's health.

The five pesticides that are widely used on children's food and which are the subject of the lawsuit are: Alachlor, Chlorothalonil, Methomyl, Metribuzin, and Thiodicarb. According to the EPA's own data, each of the targeted pesticides is found on food that is frequently consumed by children, as illustrated in the following chart:

PesticideExamples of Food on Which the Pesticide is Used
Alachlorcorn, soybeans, peanuts.
Chlorothalonilbananas, broccoli, carrots, corn, peaches, peanuts, potatoes, soybeans, squash, tomatoes.
Methomylapples, beans, broccoli, corn, grapes, oats, oranges, peaches, peanuts, pears, soybeans, tomatoes, wheat.
Metribuzincarrots, potatoes, soybeans, sugar cane, tomatoes, wheat.
Thiodicarbcorn, soy beans.

The lawsuit was filed today in federal court, in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The case is being handled by New York Assistant Attorneys General David Munro, Karen Kaufmann, and Maureen Leary and Senior Scientist Judith Schreiber PhD. under the supervision of Peter Lehner, bureau chief of the Environmental Protection Bureau.

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