New York Times
June 9, 2000
One of the most common ingredients in home, lawn and garden bug killers poses an unacceptable health risk, particularly to children, and by the end of the year will no longer be manufactured for that use, federal environmental officials announced yesterday.
The insecticide, chlorpyrifos, has been widely used for more than 30 years, both in agriculture and in hundreds of products employed by exterminators and homeowners, including some Raid sprays, Hartz yard and kennel flea spray, and Black Flag liquid roach and ant killer.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently reassessed the chemical, also called Dursban, and found that it could damage the brain in newborn rats and cause weakness, vomiting, diarrhea and other ill effects in children.
Adults and children alike can be exposed when the chemical is applied in a backyard or a building, and through residue on fruits or other foods.
After prolonged negotiations with six chlorpyrifos manufacturers-the largest Dow AgroSciences, a division of the Dow Chemical Company-the E.P.A. signed an agreement with them on Wednesday night.
Under the accord, labeling by the manufacturers will allow continued use of chlorpyrifos on many crops but sharply limit it on apples, grapes and tomatoes and entirely eliminate its use around homes, schools, day care centers and other places where children might be exposed.
Curtailing of its agricultural use was intended to limit childrens exposure from fruit, juices and staples like tomato sauce.
Homeowners looking for alternatives will find dozens of insecticides on the market that do not contain chlorpyrifos (pronounced klor-PYE-ruh-fahs), and the makers of popular brands that do contain it can now be expected to reformulate those products.
E.P.A. officials said consumers concerned about whether products now in the home contained the chemical should look at the label, where, if so, the list of active ingredients will include either "chlorpyrifos" or "Dursban."
But they stressed that the agencys decision reflected no need to pull the product from store shelves or homes immediately, simply to phase it out in an orderly way.
Existing stocks of consumer products containing chlorpyrifos will not be banned from store shelves until the end of 2001, said Carol M. Browner, the agencys administrator, although she added that she would encourage retail stores to consider removing them earlier on a voluntary basis. One big retailer, Wal-Mart, said yesterday that it would stop selling products with chlorpyrifos by the end of October, 14 months ahead of the agencys deadline.
The restrictions on chlorpyrifos grew out of the agencys broad new look at organophosphate pesticides, a group that is chemically related to nerve gas and includes chlorpyrifos. The review was required under the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, which called for a much stricter appraisal of chemical risks, focusing on potential harm to children, whose small bodies and fast-growing brains are particularly vulnerable to toxic chemicals.
Dow officials yesterday stood by the safety of chlorpyrifos when properly used, but said the changes imposed by the law made its continued use in household products impossible.
"The rules have changed, but the safety of chlorpyrifos hasnt," said Elin Miller, a vice president of Dow AgroSciences.
But Ms. Browner said the scientific evidence of unacceptable risk was clear, and justified the agencys decision. She said poison control centers received about 800 calls a year, many involving children, for exposure to products containing chlorpyrifos. "There are too many incidents in my experience of children becoming ill," the administrator said.
The agencys review of chlorpyrifos began only a year ago. "This is faster than any other action we have taken against a pesticide, literally in the history of the E.P.A.," Ms. Browner said.
Ms. Browner said the organophosphates, many created decades ago, were antiquated tools for which safer alternatives now existed.
"Organophosphates are a World War II class of chemicals," she said. "We can do better today."
Under the chemical review required by the 1996 law, restrictions were placed on some other organophosphate pesticides last summer. But the decision on chlorpyrifos had been awaited with particular interest by consumer groups because it is so widely used.
Adam Goldberg, a spokesman for Consumers Union, said the environmental agencys conclusions should not cause panic, but should prompt people to consider getting rid of products containing the chemical.
"We would encourage consumers to find safer alternatives now," Mr. Goldberg said, adding that homeowners should call their local public works or health departments to find out how to dispose of a pesticide.
One of the best ways to avoid an infestation of ants, cockroaches or other indoor pests to begin with, he said, is to clean up.
"Plugging cracks, leaving no standing water, clearing dishes out of the sink-if you take care of these other things, then you probably dont have to spray," he said.
After television reports yesterday about the environmental agencys decision, some large retail stores received a surge of customer inquiries on non-chlorpyrifos insecticides. John Simley, a spokesman for the Home Depot chain, said the company planned to place signs in its stores identifying alternatives.
Mr. Simley said most cases of chlorpyrifos poisoning and other accidental human exposure identified by the E.P.A. had resulted from improper use of products. People may spray in windy conditions, for instance, or get the chemical on their hands and neglect to wash, or spray it near childrens toys.
Because "people rarely read the instructions," Mr. Simley said, "we are redoubling our efforts to make sure people understand how to use the products they buy."
The decision to end residential use of the chemical is not likely to have a substantial impact on the $5-billion-a-year exterminating business, industry representatives said.
Many exterminators have already shifted toward using custom-tailored chemicals, baits and other techniques that kill a targeted pest without broader effects on wildlife or people.
"Weve basically been supportive of the science behind Dursban, but its certainly not the only tool out there anymore," said Steven Kramer, a spokesman for the National Pest Management Association, which represents 5,000 pest control businesses.
Legal and environmental experts said it was unclear whether the move to eliminate household uses of chlorpyrifos would prompt a flood of lawsuits from people who feel they have been harmed by the chemical.
Dow and some pest control companies have been sued sporadically over the years by people claiming adverse effects from exposure to it. Several cases ended in settlements, in which the defendants admitted no culpability.