(CN) - Fifteen years after prohibiting in-home use of chlorpyrifos, the EPA has proposed banning the pesticide in food crops - a move opposed by its manufacturer, Dow Chemical Co.
Chlorpyrifos, introduced in 1965, is widely used to control pests that threaten more than 60 crops, including almonds, walnuts, oranges, cotton and grapes.
The Environmental Protection Agency's announcement Friday met the Oct. 31 deadline set by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel told the EPA in August to release a proposed or final rule banning the pesticide or to issue a "full and final" response to a petition filed by the Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council nine years ago.
The EPA said it had intended to issue a proposed rule on the pesticide by April 2016, but the court's deadline did not leave it with enough time to finish its assessment, leaving "certain science issues unresolved."
"Based on EPA's current analysis, there do not appear to be risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food, but, when those exposures are combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act safety standard," the agency said.
The EPA barred the pesticide from homes in 2000, saying then that the action was "good news for the protection of our country's public health."
Tolerances for the chemical were revised in 2006 and the EPA limited the crops in which it could be applied. Farms across the nation continue to use more than 5 million pounds of the chemical each year, 25 percent of it in California.
The EPA proposes to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances, which would end all uses of the pesticide that result in residue on food, contamination of drinking water, or that drift to schools, homes and other inhabited places.
"Given the incredibly strong science on the health harms of this pesticide, it's absurd that EPA has taken so long to act," said Dr. Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network . "A ban will finally ensure that children, workers and families in rural communities are safe from this drift-prone, bad-actor pesticide."
Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical, which produces the pesticide, said it disagrees with the EPA proposal "and remains confident that all U.S. tolerance issues relating to the continued use of chlorpyrifos can be readily resolved with a more refined analysis of data."
Dow said the product has been thoroughly tested for health, safety and environmental effects.
"Dow AgroSciences is committed to addressing the needs of its U.S. customers for continued access to chlorpyrifos by providing EPA with high quality scientific and regulatory support on a timely basis, as needed to resolve this situation," the company said.
Because the agency's proposal is not a final regulatory act, it will not affect the 2016 growing season.
Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, said it is "imperative that EPA move quickly to protect workers and children by finalizing this important rule."
The EPA will accept comments on the rule for two months, and plans to come up with a final rule in December 2016.
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