Poisonous Process: How the EPA’s Chronic Misuse of ‘Emergency’ Pesticide Exemptions Increases Risks to Wildlife
Stephanie M. Parent and Nathan Donley
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY For years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has routinely issued “emergency” exemptions for the use of certain pesticides across millions of acres in the United States, in ways that are known to be harmful to wildlife and in cases where the potential harmful effects haven’t been properly investigated.
These exemptions allow pesticide manufacturers to bypass the established pesticide-approval process intended to protect people, wildlife and the environment. For this analysis the Center for Biological Diversity examined those types of exemptions for use of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor.
One examination of EPA records reveals a chronic misuse of emergency exemptions for this pesticide. At least 78 emergency exceptions have been granted for sulfoxaflor over the past six years on just two crops: cotton and sorghum. The ongoing exemptions are notable because previous approval of the pesticide’s use on cotton was cancelled in 2015 due to its potential harm to pollinators;
It has never been approved for use on sorghum, which is attractive to bees. Our analysis also found that: · The 78 emergency exemptions issued for sulfoxaflor since 2012 allowed its use on more than 17.5 million acres of U.S. farmland. · Only eight of the 78 exemptions went through a public review process that allowed for comment and review by citizens and independent researchers. · The emergency uses of the pesticide approved for cotton were in response to an insect that has been a chronic problem for at least a decade and has already developed resistance to four different classes of pesticides. · The emergency uses on sorghum were granted in at least 18 states in response to an insect that has been a problem for the past five years. · Fourteen states were given emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor for at least three consecutive years for the same “emergency.” These emergency exemptions have essentially allowed its use on millions of acres of crops where exposure to pollinators through contaminated pollen is high, for scenarios 1 The Center appreciates and acknowledges the work of Purba Mukerjee in drafting this report. Page 2 of 19 that are routine and foreseeable. In effect this facilitates widespread use of pesticides that are not eligible for approval on certain crops because of well-documented risks to the environment.
Conclusion: The EPA’s routine misuse of these exemptions for sulfoxaflor poses significant risks to pollinators such as bees, small birds and butterflies. Our analysis also reveals a larger, systemic problem that has gone largely unrecognized at the EPA with regards to widespread application of “emergency” exemptions.
Recommendation: The EPA should only grant emergency exemptions for a true emergency on a temporary basis and not as a way of continually insulating growers from the normal risks of agriculture. If a pesticide cannot gain approval under the normal pesticide-approval process, then agricultural practices must change to reflect that reality.
The Pollinator Stewart Council ( PSC) was involved in getting EPA to follow their own risk assessment rules on the registration of Sulfoxaflor in court.
With Earth Justice as our counsel the judge ruled in our favor and ordered the EPA to remove Sulfoxaflor from the market.
Unfortunately EPA section 18 (emergency registration) Sulfoxaflor back into the market, a process that to this day is believed contemptuous of the court order.
Regretfully the PSC did not have the means to challenge and so the killing continues.
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