How is that these toxic pesticides are allowed to be used on our food and in our earth, air, and water?
Many times this answer comes down to "pesticide registration." Only pesticides registered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are allowed to be sold in the United States. In the registraton process, the EPA looks at testing data (for example, testing the number of animals harmed by the pesticide in question) and proposals from pesticide manufacturers. Through a process called Risk Assessment and Cost-Benefit Analysis (RA/CBA) they calculate a level of use that "only" allows an "acceptable" amount of harm to people and the environment by the use of these toxic chemicals. Through this, they identify where the pesticide can be used (on what crops or for what uses); at what rates (quantities); and what other rules apply (not near water; what protection the user must wear); etc. (Note: To be used in California, pesticides must also be registered through Cal-EPA, in a similar type of process.)
It's claimed that this process protects people and the environment. And, while this process is certainly better than nothing, people who've analyzed it and are concerned about health and the environment see many serious flaws in it, which they believe results in dramatically unacceptable harm to people and our world from these toxic materials.
Some of the key flaws identified include:
* A certain amount of harm to people and the environment is overtly allowed for all pesticides registered, which some feel is immoral (the profit of some at the expense of others) and not consistent with a claim of protection.
* Some key assessments are based on what harm the pesticides are expected to do to a healthy, young, white male, completely ignoring the different biologies, and often increased sensitivities, of women, children, the aged, people of different races, and the ill. Some feel that overlooking such a large portion of our population leads to grossly underestimating the harm that these pesticides are allowed to do in reality.
* Many older pesticides were registered before there were any health or environmental criteria at all, and have not been re-registered according to this criteria. Therefore, a registration number does not ensure that any health or environmental standards have been met at all.
* So-called "inert" ingredients - which can be as or more toxic than the "active" ingredients - are not included in the testing and are hidden from our view, creating a huge hole in the testing process and allowing greatly increased toxic levels than the process assumes.
* In determining usage rates and protection, it is assumed that pesticides used will magically stop at the property line. But, as Dr. Marion Moses says, "Pesticides obey the laws of physics, not the laws of the state of California." This means that a pesticide can be so toxic that the worker using it is wearing a "moon suit" (full body protection), while just over the fence a child plays on the lawn completely unprotected.
* Even if a pesticide is demonstrated to be excessively harmful by the system's rules, it can take many, many years to get its registration changed or revoked, while the harm continues.
All this results in our being exposed to billions of pounds of toxic pesticides each year, in our food, air, and water, harming our health and the ecosystems of life on this planet upon which we depend. This harm can be quite significant. For instance, the International Agency for Research on Cancers (IARC) concludes that at least 80% of all cancer is attributable to environmental influences.
How many of the problems we try to solve, individually and as a community, stem from the use of these toxic materials? How many lives could be saved and healed by drastically curtailing pesticide use? And most importantly, why are we allowing this harm to continue, when there are so many wonderful and viable alternatives, such as organic agriculture?
Pesticide manufacturers claim there would be worldwide disaster if their products were used less or not at all - apparently ignoring the fact that humans have existed on this planet quite adequately for thousands of years without these toxics. Contrary to their claims, pesticides are the experiment, not less-toxic agriculture, and their history so far shows a lot of dead bodies and ruined lives. In nearly all cases, toxic pesticides are not needed for our survival, but in fact are a serious threat to our ability to survive on this planet.
Many of us consider this situation quite serious, demanding strong action by citizens who insist on serious changes. It is because of our analysis of the situation, and our own personal experiences with these toxics, that our organization devotes so much time providing information on toxics and their alternatives, largely on a volunteer basis. Our hope is that, through our work and that of other groups, people will be empowered to take more and more constructive action to reduce our toxic load and support less-toxic alternatives. That process is already happening, and each person who takes action helps that process along, making a safer world for everyone.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Help ensure the implementation of The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. This was passed with strong bipartisan support and would make important reforms. Unfortunately, it's not being implemented in a timely manner. For more information on this Act and what's needed for its implementation, see the report "Putting Children First: Making Pesticide Levels In Food Safer For Infants and Children" at <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/rpcfsum.asp>. Detailed information on the problems are at: <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/ocar/chap5.asp>. Then write to your representatives and the EPA to support them taking constructive action. See our Email Addresses for Political Action and Government Resources pages for contact information. For the official EPA information, see <www.epa.gov/oppfead1/fqpa/index.html>
For more information on pesticide regulation flaws, especially in protecting children, see their section "Toxic Chemicals and Health: Kids Health" <www.nrdc.org/health/kids> and "The Five Worst Threats to Children's Health: Growing evidence points to a link between chemicals and children's illnesses <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/n5worst.asp>
For more information on concerns about pesticides being used in the United States, see our page summarizing the harm of pesticides, and connect with the pesticide groups shown on the Resources list. For more information on government laws, bills, and other activities, see our Government Resources page. For instance, to see what pesticides are currently registered, etc., see the EPA and Cal-EPA sites there.
Also be aware that many other countries have less protection than the U.S. and allow the use of even more toxic materials with even fewer controls. This can increase the harm to people living or visiting that country, but it can also mean higher toxicity in foods imported into the United States (the "circle of poison").
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