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EPA Inactivity Threatens Bees, Nonprofit Claims

WASHINGTON (CN) — Covering all their bases within court time limits, environmentalists petitioned the D.C. Circuit to review a new DowAgro Sciences herbicide that they worry will harm bees.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed its Oct. 7 petition for D.C. Circuit review after the Environmental Protection Agency issued a final registration decision over the summer of halauxifen-methyl aka XDE-729 methyl.

Conservationists worry that the chemical could hurt already imperiled bee population across North America, as well as the Monarch butterfly and rare plants, if leached into the water supply after used on wheat and barley crops treated with other pesticides.

Testing is obligatory for new chemicals coming to market, but the Center for Biological Diversity says companies can abuse the process if and when the EPA is less than vigilant about monitoring.

This is because there are loopholes in the EPA's testing and approval process when it comes to chemical mixing or "synergism," said staff attorney Stephanie Parent, of Portland, Ore.

"Pesticide chemical companies are dodging the requirement that they must provide the EPA with basic information on the potential harm of pesticides, and the EPA isn't demanding it," Parent said in a statement. "Without all this critical information, the EPA simply can't make pesticide-approval decisions supported by science. This is a bad deal for rare plants, butterflies and the people who love them."

DowAgro Sciences registered the herbicide in 2012. The EPA's final registration decision notes that, as part of its common practice for evaluating applications, it conducted a variety of examinations, including exposure. Those tests include information on "where and how [a] pesticide is used, how the chemical will move in the environment and [its] toxicity on humans and other non target organisms to determine the likelihood of adverse effects from exposure to the product," the decision says.

In the XDE-729 methyl study, the EPA concluded the herbicide was "not acutely toxic" and "not likely carcinogenic to humans." Testing on rats showed that while the chemical was an irritant to the eyes and metabolized in the liver rapidly when consumed, increasing the risk of kidney damage, two generations of exposed lab rats were left unscathed after exposure to the herbicide.

But in its statement on the D.C. Circuit filing, the center argues that further research on the long term impact of synergism is needed.

Regulators "allowed mixture of the product that contains halauxifen-methyl and another active ingredient, florasulum, with any other chemical (other than glufosinate) without a sound explanation of that decision," the center's statement says (parentheses in original). "And the agency once again ignored its mandate to consider the effects of this pesticide and mixtures on endangered species."

Parent elaborated in a phone interview. "The EPA reached this conclusion while prohibiting the mixing of the product containing the active ingredient halauxifen-methyl with a long list other active ingredients contained in pesticide products," she said.

Giving a pass to synergy issues has allowed the EPA to waive federal mandates that require pollinator-impact studies be conducted for a full year, Parent added. By slipping XDE-729 into other chemical mixtures, the center believes that the herbicide will be "used on fields across America without knowing how it will affect the already declining bee population."

This is "nothing new," Parent said, citing the center's 2015 study "Toxic Concoctions." According to that report, "two-thirds of the new pesticides registered in the past six years by the four major pesticide companies had patents demonstrating their products' synergistic effects with other pesticide effects the EPA failed to consider."

After issuing the report, the center submitted a petition to the EPA demanding that it conduct more extensive analysis on the synergism of chemicals. She said the EPA never responded to the petition.

In its final decision to register the chemical, approved by the Office of Pesticide programs in July, the EPA concluded that the ecological impact of halauxifen-methyl, whether mixed with another chemical or not, "reached a conclusion of no unreasonable adverse effect."

"As a general matter, older chemistries present a greater degree of risk to listed species than most new chemistries coming to market, including halauxifen-methyl, since registration standards have increased over time," the EPA wrote. "It is environmentally preferable in most circumstances for EPA to focus resources to assess the impacts of existing pesticides sooner in the process than newer pesticides that have been held to higher standards to meet current registration requirements."

The EPA added that it "does not believe the environment or the public would be best served delaying the registration," and that "completing a consultation on the effects of [the herbicide] would by necessity come at the expense of putting more resources into evaluating and consequently, regulating where appropriate what the EPA believes to be more toxic compounds that, among other things, pose greater risk to endangered species than halauxifen-methyl."

Parent is less convinced.

"The center's lawsuit, report, Toxic Concoctions, and the petition for rulemaking asking the EPA to require that applicants submit information on synergy is based on a common sense perspective that the EPA cannot make rational decisions without this information," Parent added. A representative from the EPA did not return a request for comment.

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