Public-interest groups led by the Center for Food Safety want the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to review EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s decision to permit continued use of the farm pesticide dicamba.

Rural Coalition, Pesticide Action, Network North America, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, and CFS cited the “lack support in substantial evidence” as a reason to review and set aside EPA’s latest dicamba ruling.   The request for review spans 134 pages.

Dicamba is a broad-spectrum herbicide registered for farm use since 1967. After the Ninth Circuit pulled the registrations for three major dicamba brands going into last summer, EPA nonetheless extended the use of the pesticides for another five years with some additional restrictions.

The Oct. 30 request for review, however, seeks to stop the use and sale of dicamba.  The continued court challenge of the pesticide, which is widely by soybean and cotton farmers, likely means more uncertainty.

The petitioners call the pesticide  “an endocrine-disrupting herbicide banned across much of the world.”  

The request for review claims the pesticide castrates frogs, impairs fish reproduction, and is linked to birth defects and cancer in humans.”  It says dicamba is just another in a string of harmful pesticides including paraquat, 1,3-D, and multiple pyrethroids approved in recent months by EPA.

The petition for review contends that before reapproving atrazine, the EPA failed in its legal duty to ensure that the pesticide would not cause unreasonable harm to public health and the environment.

“In siding with the pesticide industry over young children, the pesticide office at the EPA has sunk to a new low,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are few pesticides that cause this much harm at such low doses. We’re not going to just stand by and watch another generation get poisoned by one of the most dangerous pesticides still in use.”

Dangerously high risks to farmworkers and their families stem from Atrazine — a herbicide of the triazine class.   Its reapproval comes without some safeguards for children while allowing 50 percent more atrazine to end up in U.S. waterways, the petitioners claim. Atrazine’s use is the prevention of pre-emergence broadleaf weeds in crops such as maize and sugarcane and on turf,

It is banned in more than 35 countries, but remains the second-most used pesticide in the United States: About 70 million pounds are used each year in agriculture.

“Rather than doing its job of protecting human health and the environment, EPA heeded to political expediency and rushed to reapprove this toxic pesticide. We are in court to make sure EPA answers for its blatant disregard of the lives of our nation’s farmworkers and their children,” said Sylvia Wu, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety (CFS), who is representing the petitioners in the lawsuit.

Today’s lawsuit also challenges the EPA’s reapprovals of two other pesticides in the triazine class, propazine, and simazine, which were part of the same review process as atrazine.

In allowing the continued use of atrazine, they say EPA discarded safety precautions mandated under the Food Quality Protection Act that were put in place decades ago to limit young children’s exposure to the pesticide. In doing so, they claim that the agency ignored multiple independent epidemiological studies finding that developing embryos and young children are at high risk from atrazine. These findings are supported by animal studies, which likewise demonstrate adverse birth outcomes and reproductive effects.

In assessing atrazine, the EPA also reduced the protection factor it uses to convert toxicity levels observed in rat and mouse studies to levels considered safe for humans. The more permissive benchmark relies solely on a model developed by the primary manufacturer of atrazine, Syngenta.

Had the safety standards been based on independent science, atrazine uses on lawns and turf would likely have been canceled due to unacceptable harm to children. The approval only mandated a modest reduction in the application rate for turf.

Additionally, the EPA dismissed extensive evidence showing that personal protection equipment intended to reduce farmworkers’ exposure to atrazine is ineffective and infeasible, thus putting the health of this highly exposed group at risk.

The reapproval also weakened environmental safeguards put in place in 2006 to protect aquatic life from harmful atrazine exposure, a move that will increase the amount of atrazine allowed in waterways across the United States.

“If EPA were actually doing its job, this chemical would have been off the market years ago,” said Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network. “The science on atrazine’s harms is so clear that it’s been banned in Europe for more than a decade, yet here in this country EPA is now loosening use restrictions—once again putting corporate interests over public health or the environment.”

“EPA’s failure to remove atrazine represents a dramatic failure of a federal agency charged with safeguarding the health of people, wildlife, and the environment,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “We seek to uphold the agency’s duty to act on the science, in the face of viable alternatives to this highly toxic weedkiller.”

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