7 May 2003
drift called a danger
The rice chemical molinate may pose health risks in Valley cities,
a report says.
by Mike Lee
herbicide widely used on the Sacramento Valley rice crop drifts
into communities and endangers residents, assert pesticide watchdog
groups in a new study of California farm chemicals to be issued
"Secondhand Pesticides" report -- the latest attempt by
advocacy groups to trim pesticide use -- alleges that hundreds of
thousands of Californians potentially face health risks from airborne
farm chemicals because regulators poorly monitor and control drift.
'secondhand pesticides,' like secondhand cigarette smoke, can cause
serious adverse health effects and are forced on others against
their will," said the report by Californians for Pesticide
Reform. The report's authors are from the Pesticide Action Network
North America, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and
the Pesticide Education Center.
California Rice Commission immediately questioned the report's conclusions,
and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation issued a detailed
statement criticizing what it called alarmist claims.
Chavira at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide
office in San Francisco took a different approach.
said the study provides a good list of issues and scientific resources
as the EPA reregisters pesticides, including the popular rice herbicide
molinate, which will be reviewed in 2004. "Many of their recommendations
are good," Chavira said.
study looked at state air monitoring data and at "acceptable"
levels of pesticide exposure as defined by state and federal regulators.
for Pesticide Reform, a coalition of more than 160 groups, would
like stricter pesticide drift controls from the federal EPA and
the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, increased air monitoring
and a phase-out of some fumigant pesticides that sterilize the soil.
$28 billion agriculture industry relies heavily on pesticides. An
unrelated study released last week predicted California crop losses
of nearly $900 million a year if herbicides were not used.
report says there are potential health risks in Sacramento, where
molinate -- a slightly to moderately toxic compound -- has been
found in some drinking water systems. Residents also are inhaling
small doses of the chemical after it blows off fields. More than
1 million pounds of molinate was used in California in 2000, mostly
in the Sacramento Valley to control watergrass in rice.
molinate analysis was based on a 1992 study that showed the Colusa
County towns of Williams and Maxwell had air concentrations of molinate
that exceeded the "acceptable" child health standard over
several days, the report said.
California Rice Commission defended the 15-year safety record of
molinate -- a chemical that doesn't have a good replacement -- and
the multiyear testing process to register farm chemicals.
feel comfortable that once it goes through that process that is
the most rigorous in the world, the materials (approved) by third-party
government agencies can be used safely," said commission President
report also addresses drift from widely used chemicals, including
chlorpyrifos and diazinon. Among its assertions:
Four of the six farm chemicals studied turned up far from fields
at levels much higher than federal "acceptable" levels
for short-term doses.
Regulators don't account for more than 80 percent of pesticide drift
because it happens after they stop monitoring.
Ongoing "background" level exposure to airborne pesticides
poses health risks.
Susan Kegley of the Pesticide Action Network in San Francisco is
particularly concerned about chemicals that evaporate from the crop,
then drift into populated areas -- a different problem from when
pesticides are blown off fields as they are applied.
than 90 percent of pesticides used in California are prone to drifting
away from where they are applied, and 34 percent are toxic to humans,
the report said.
question is, 'How much should people be allowed to pollute the general
environment?' " Kegley said. "The answer should be 'Not
at all,' but that isn't the way we run our society."
Department of Pesticide Regulation issued a 3 1/2 page response
Tuesday, occasionally agreeing with the report. For instance, the
state has formally asked the federal EPA to improve federal pesticide
drift regulations, something the activist groups also want.
EPA, Chavira said spray regulations are being reviewed by agency
higher-ups, and he doesn't know whether they will meet state expectations.
He also said his agency is assessing non-spray drift, though no
regulations have been developed to control potential dangers.
a very, very complex issue in California and around the nation,
which may be one of the reasons why it has taken us so long to deal
with it," he said.
officials, however, dispute major portions of the report, most significantly
claims that the pesticides in question routinely create unacceptable
collected and analyzed by DPR scientists do not support CPR's alarmist
claims," said the agency, adding that drift has been the agency's
top regulatory priority under the Davis administration.
pesticide department also said it had built in large safety factors
to account for uncertainties and to provide extra protection.
agency defended its enforcement record, saying it's done more work
than federal regulators and is beefing up penalties for serious
pesticide offenses under recent legislation.