Pesticides the acceptable killer

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Pesticides the acceptable killer

Pesticides: Will the next spring be silent?

    Michael Barth

I. Introduction

    II. An Overview of the Dangers of Pesticides

     A. Pesticides Defined

     B. The Effects of Pesticide Exposure on Humans.

     C. The Effects of Pesticide Exposure on the Environment III. The Regulatory Scheme

     A. Domestically in the US

     1. FIFRA

     2. The EPA’s Registration Process

     3. US Export Controls

     B. International Regulation of Pesticides

     1. PIC and the Rotterdam Convention

     2. POPs and the Stockholm Convention

    IV. The Circle of Poison

     A. Description of the Circle

     B. The FDA’s Pesticide Procedures

     C. Closing the Circle

    V. DDT in Africa

     A. The Dangers of DDT

     B. Use of DDT as a Disease Vector Control in Africa

     C. Alternative Solutions to the Malaria Problem VI. Bhopal India

     A. The Disaster and its Aftereffects

     B. Timeline of Litigation in the Wake of the Accident

     C. What Needs to be Done for Bhopal?

    VII. Conclusion

    I. Introduction

     Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, described the environmental

    1horrors that could come from pesticide use. Her blend of well written text and scientific knowledge helped define the environmental movement. Nearly 50 years after the

     1 Rachel Carlson, silent spring


    2 publication of Silent Spring, pesticides still represent a grave environmental problem.This article will provide an overview of the dangers of pesticides and potential solutions to these problems. In the first portion of the article, the dangers of pesticides will be discussed. This discussion will define what a pesticide is and the four main groups of pesticides. After defining pesticides the article will go on to discuss the dangers of pesticides in general terms. First the possible impacts on humans will be discussed. Next, the impacts of pesticides on the environment will be covered. Part III of the article will deal with the current regulatory scheme concerning pesticides. This will include a discussion on how the United States regulates pesticides. Next, the international aspects of pesticide control will be overviewed. This discussion will include both the Rotterdam Convention and the Stockholm Convention. After the foundation of the dangers of pesticides and the current regulatory scheme in place to manage these dangers has been laid, three aspects of the concern over pesticides will be addressed. Part IV deals with the “Circle of Poison”. Part V will relate the problems with use of pesticides as disease vector controls in Africa. Part VI describes the dangers of the manufacture process of pesticides and what can happen when a catastrophe occurs during production. This section will use the explosion of the Union Carbide pesticide manufactory in Bhopal, India to highlight the dangers in the production of pesticides. This article contains an overview of the current state of affairs surrounding pesticide management and control and potential avenues to follow for improving pesticide management.

     2 See generally Pesticide Action Network North America, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). See infra Parts II, IV, V, VI.


    II. The Dangers of Pesticides

A. Pesticides Defined

    3 The A pesticide is defined as, “a chemical used to kill pests, especially insects”.Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act [hereinafter FIFRA] defines a pesticide as:

     The term “pesticide” means (1) any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing,

     destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, (2) any substance or mixture of substances intended

     for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant, and (3) any nitrogen stabilizer, except that the

     term “pesticide” shall not include any article that is a “new animal drug” within the meaning of

     section 321(w) of Title 21, that has been determined by the Secretary of Health and Human

     Services not to be a new animal drug by a regulation establishing conditions of use for the article,

     or that is an animal feed within the meaning of section 321(x) of Title 21 bearing or containing a 4 new animal drug.

    The Environmental Protection Agency [hereinafter the EPA] defines a pesticide as, “any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or

    5mitigating any pest.” These definitions help define exactly what is a pesticide. The strong theme running through the definitions is that a pesticide is defined by its effects and uses and not merely by the chemical combinations that make the pesticide. There are numerous chemical combinations that can be used as a pesticide. Three common chemical types that are used as pesticides include: organophosphates, carbamate, and

    67organochlorines. Organophosphates act as a neurotoxin inhibiting enzymes in the

     3 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 4 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, 7 U.S.C.A. ? 136u 5 EPA, About Pesticides, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 6 EPA, Types of Pesticides, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 7 Id.


    8 The effects of nervous system that are critical to the transmission of nerve impulses.organophosphate poisoning include, excessive sweating, salivation and lachrimation,

    nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramp, general weakness, headache, poor

    910concentration and tremors.” Acute poisoning can lead to death from respiratory failure.

    There is conflicting evidence as to whether organophosphates lead to long term health

    11effects through accumulation of small non lethal doses. Organophosphates, while

    deadly to humans, have a lesser effect on the environment since these compounds tend

    12not to persist in the environment or undergo the process of bioaccumulation. However,

    the short term effects to different living ecosystems can be disastrous simply due to food chain disruption. Carbamate poisoning is similar in its effects to organophosphate

    13 The major difference between poisoning from these two pesticides is that poisoning.

    14carbamate poisoning is often reversible if identified early enough. The organocholrine

    15group includes pesticides such as DDT and dioxin. These pesticides are

    16bioaccumulative and can have long-term effects on ecosystems stemming from food chain disruption. The ecological effects of persistent organic pollutants like the organochlorines require action due to the long-term nature of this pollution. Human health is also negatively affected by excess exposure to organochlorines. In studies long-

     8 Pesticide Action Network, Organophosphate Insecticides Fact Sheet, (Dec. 1996). 9 Id. 10 William Freudenthal, Toxicity, Organophosphates,, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 11 Pesticide Action Network, Organophosphate Insecticides Fact Sheet, (Dec. 1996). 12 Id. 13 Gina Solomon, Pesticides and Human Health, 16 (2000), 14 Id. 15 Id. 16 Pesticide Action Network, DDT,, (Jun. 1998).


    17 The EPA relates that this category of pesticide term exposure has resulted in cancer.

    has been removed from the United States market due to the health and environmental

    18effects and the persistent of these effects.

B. The Effects of Pesticide Exposure on Humans

     Humans can suffer from a variety of health problems from exposure to pesticides.

    19Acute poisoning can result from over exposure to most pesticides. Many pesticides

    work as endocrine disrupters. These pesticides, after entering into the body, mimic and

    20block normal hormones. Endocrine disrupters have caused reproductive problems in

    21 It is possible that problems relating to fertility, endometriosis, both alligators and birds.

    cancer, and immune function might be related to increased exposure to endocrine

    22disrupters. The carcinogenic effects of pesticides has been well addressed by the scientific community. The EPA’s Health Effects Division of the Office of Pesticide Programs tests chemical compounds for carcinogenic potential. This list includes many

    23of the active ingredients in pesticides. The July 19, 2004 list contains 64 probable

    24human carcinogens. A study of Indian workers in a pesticide manufactory, who are

     17 Gina Solomon, Pesticides and Human Health, 21 (2000), 18 EPA, Types of Pesticides, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 19 Gina Solomon, Pesticides and Human Health, 13 (2000), 20 National Resources Defense Council, Endocrine Disrupters FAQ, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 21 Id. 22 Green Facts, Endocrine Disrupters, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 23 EPA, Chemicals Evaluated for Carcinogenic Potential, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 24 Id.


    exposed to a variety of pesticides, noted increased damage to DNA that is a precursor to

    25 The variety and severity of the risks of pesticide exposure to increased cancer risks.

    humans are well documented and extensive. It is safe to say that chemical compounds designed to kill and destroy pests are inherently dangerous poisons. Unfortunately, the human impacts of pesticide exposure are not limited to primary application sites. Like so many other environmental toxins, pesticides once released into the environment do not stay in one local. A report by the Farm Worker Pesticide Project and Pesticide Action Network North America [hereinafter PANNA] measured pesticide drift from orchards in

    26the Yakima Valley in Washington State. The results found that children living within

    60 feet of the orchards, the primary spray sites, were exposed to pesticides at

    27 Pesticide drift is not limited to concentrations above the acceptable health standards.

    locales adjacent to the primary application site. There have been high amounts of pollutants found in Inuit peoples of the eastern Canadian Arctic and Greenland where

    28there are no primary sources for pesticide exposure. Drift from application sites is not

    the only way that pesticides can travel across the globe. In July of 1985, there was a reported 692 probable cases of acute poisoning from residue of the pesticide TemikR

    29from watermelons. Poisoning from residue on imported produce has come to be known as the “Circle of Poison.” The circle is another method by which the negative impacts of

     25 See generally Paramjit Grover ET AL., Evaluation of Genetic Damage in Workers Employed in Pesticide Production Utilizing the Comet Assay, 18 Mutagenesis (March 2003) [Study determined damage to DNA using a randomly selected control group and 54 workers in a pesticide manufacturing unit in Hyderabad, India. Analysis was made using the Comet assay. Both groups showed increased DNA damage from smoking and the test group had greater DNA damage from the prolonged exposure to the different pesticides.] 26 Susan A. Kegley ET AL., Poisons on the Wind, i (Dec. 2006), 27 Id. at iii. 28 United Nations Environment Progamme, GEO-4, 52 (2007) 29 Cooperative Extension University of California, Food and Waterborne Toxicants, (June 1986)


    pesticides can traverse the globe from the primary application site. Pesticide pollution is dangerous to human populations. Direct exposure can lead to death through acute toxic poisoning. Long term exposure can result in increased cancer risks. Most importantly, pesticides are not static once released. Exposure may occur thousands of miles from the primary application site.

C. The Effects of Pesticide Exposure on the Environment

     The environmental impacts of pesticide use and production are numerous. A

    30pesticide’s primary use is to reduce pests, be they insect, fungus, or rodent. In order to

    achieve this role the chemical compounds that comprise a pesticide are toxic. When these chemical compounds are artificially introduced into stable ecosystems, the systems

    31can be destabilized. This is because many pesticides are classified as Persistent Organic

    32Pollutants [hereinafter POPs]. These pollutants are chemicals that, “remain intact in the

    environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in

    33the fatty tissue of living organisms and are toxic to humans and wildlife. These

    pollutants accumulate in organism higher on the food chain due to the process of

    34bioaccumulation. Bioaccumulation is a dynamic process that normally allows for the

    35accumulation of important minerals and vitamins within an organism. This same

     30 7 USCA ?136u 31 Pesticide Action Network, DDT,, (Jun. 1998). 32 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 33 Id. 34 USGS, Bioaccumulation Definition Page,, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 35 ExToxNet, Bioaccumulation,, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007).


    beneficial process can cause toxic buildup in a food chain. This situation was seen in the United States with the bald eagle. Being an apex predator, the eagle had to eat high concentrations of fish. The DDT in the fish began to accumulate in the eagle which

    36 Bioaccumulation presents almost lead to its extinction and prompted the EPA to act.

    another problem when considered in conjunction with pesticide drift. This is particularly the case in arctic regions where arctic animals are so dependent on stored fat for survival

    3738when food is not prevalent and accumulation occurs due to pesticide drift. POPs and

    other pesticides also represent a danger to clean drinkable water. Many pesticides are

    39found in water sources due to agricultural runoff. Once in the water supply these

    pesticides can pose a risk to human health if the water is used for drinking and can disrupt the delicate balance of an aquatic ecosystem. Pesticides and POPs are an obvious threat to the safety of the environment. These compounds accumulate in delicately

    40balanced ecosystems and disrupt the natural balance. It is imperative that a method for

    safely managing these dangers is found.

    III. The Regulatory Scheme

A. Domestically in the United States


     36 Pesticide Action Network, DDT,, (Jun. 1998). 37 United Nations Environment Progamme, GEO-4, 325 (2007) 38 Id. at 52 39 Id. at 167 40 Leticia M. Diaz and Barry Hart Dubne, On the Importance of Regulating the International Trade of

    Pesticides, 14 Southeastern Envtl. L.J. 7, 25 (2005).


     Pesticides are controlled in the United States by FIFRA. This act prevents the

    41 The Administrator may sale and distribution of any pesticide that is not registered.

    limit the sale, use, or distribution of any pesticide that presents an unreasonable adverse

    42effect on the environment. An unreasonable adverse effect is defined in the statute as:

    The term “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” means (1) any unreasonable risk to

    man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and

    benefits of the use of any pesticide, or (2) a human dietary risk from residues that result from a use

    of a pesticide in or on any food inconsistent with the standard under section 346a of Title 21. The

    Administrator shall consider the risks and benefits of public health pesticides separate from the

    risks and benefits of other pesticides. In weighing any regulatory action concerning a public health

    pesticide under this subchapter, the Administrator shall weigh any risks of the pesticide against the 43health risks such as the diseases transmitted by the vector to be controlled by the pesticide.

    The statute requires that the Administrator of the act, the EPA, make a cost benefit analysis when deciding whether to ban a pesticide due to its harmful environmental effects. The EPA also needs to determine if the public good is better upheld by using the pesticide to prevent the spread of disease through a pest vector.

2. The EPA’s Registration Process

     The EPA goes through a four step procedure to determine if a pesticide is safe to

    44use in the United States. The first step is to identify the hazards of the pesticide. For

    human health risk assessment this requires use of toxicity studies on animals and consultation with the public literature available on the active chemical compounds in the

     41 7 USCA ? 136a 42 7 USCA ? 136a 43 7 USCA ? 136bb 44 EPA, Assessing Health Risks from Pesticides, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007).


    45 The second step is to assess the dose response. A pesticide may not be toxic pesticide.

    in small doses. The EPA uses the animal toxicity studies to determine at what dosage

    46level negative effects occur and then calculates an equivalent dose in humans. The

    third stage of the assessment of a pesticide is to examine the potential exposure pathways.

    47There are three main exposure pathways: ingestion, inhalation, or dermal exposure.

    Ingestion can occur through direct ingestion of a pesticide, eating foods laced with

    48pesticide residue, or by drinking contaminated water. Inhalation can occur during the

    application of the pesticide if proper safety protocols are not followed, pollution in the air supply through pesticide drift, or from personal bug fumigants or insect repellents used in

    49the home. The final possible exposure pathway is through dermal contact. This could either be from direct exposure of the pesticide to the skin or through tissue that has a

    50mucous membrane like the eyes, nose, or throat. The EPA considers all the different

    exposure pathways when making its final risk characterization. Risk is a function of the

    51possibility for exposure multiplied by the toxicity of the pesticide. Defining risk

    through the use of this formula is a difficult process. A pesticide may be highly toxic but the risk of exposure minimal. In that case the overall risk of that pesticide is low. However, using this formula requires the EPA to make a determination of acceptable levels of risk that may allow for some exposure to occur. This is particularly evident with the EPA’s approval of methyl iodide for use in strawberry fields. Concerned

     45 Id. 46 Id. 47 Pesticides in the Environment, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007). 48 Id. 49 Id. 50 Id. 51 EPA, Assessing Health Risks from Pesticides, (last visited Nov. 28, 2007).


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