July 17, 2000
Diazinon A Risk For Children and Wildlife
WASHINGTON – Consumers Union (CU) called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out all uses of the pesticide diazinon within four years. The recommendation came in the form of comments submitted to EPA in response to the agency’s request for comments on its proposal to reduce risk from exposure to the widely used insecticide. The comments were submitted as part of CU’s ongoing pesticide policy reform efforts.
“Children’s exposure is a major concern with diazinon,” said Adam Goldberg, a policy analyst at Consumers Union. “Not only is it in foods kids eat on a regular basis, but it is also commonly found in drinking water. Plus, it is used on lawns and in parks and other recreational settings. These are the places where kids like to play, and if diazinon is used there, they can’t avoid it.”
Diazinon is an organophosphate insecticide with a wide range of agricultural, ranching, home and urban applications. Diazinon is used on many of the foods that kids eat every day, including grapes, green beans, peaches and spinach. Multiple uses create many different sources of exposure and as a result significant harm can be done not only to human beings, but to populations of birds, fish, bees, and other non-target organisms. It is a neurotoxicant and a affects key developmental processes. Diazinon poses a risk to farmworkers who use the insecticide in their work, and to their children who are exposed in the fields, from drift, and from being exposed to it on their parents clothing.
CU has worked with Pierre Mineau of the Canadian National Wildlife Research Centre to study the chemical’s effect on wildlife. Dr. Mineau’s research shows that even small exposures to diazinon can be lethal for many different species of bird.
Charles Benbrook, a CU consultant, said, “It is no wonder diazinon is responsible for so many bird kills in parks, people’s backyards and in and around treated farms. It is the most toxic pesticide registered for widespread use in these sensitive environments. These are places that attract birds and people for the same reasons. Diazinon is over six-times more toxic to birds than chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that EPA recently all but cancelled for most home and urban uses.”
“Consumers Union believes that EPA has, in fact, made a strong case to ban all diazinon uses based on its risk to the environment, and to birds in particular. The levels at which this insecticide is found in water, air, rain and fog makes it a danger to most common bird species, as well as other animals. And, of course, if the birds are being exposed, so are people,” Benbrook points out.
EPA’s review of diazinon is being done under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). The FQPA, which Congress passed unanimously in 1996, requires EPA to review all pesticide exposure limits to make sure they are safe for young children. Review of the more than 9,000 pesticide tolerances on the books is ongoing, and the law gives EPA until 2006 to complete the task. EPA must not only review each individual pesticide use, but must examine the effects of exposure to more than one pesticide at a time, as well as exposures from multiple sources.
The diazinon review comes on the heels of EPA’s review of another controversial pesticide, chlorpyrifos. In that case, EPA eliminated most non-agricultural uses, severely restricted its use on grapes and apples, and prohibited its use on tomatoes.
“There are a number of effective alternatives for diazinon, and more are in the pipeline,” Benbrook said. “There is no reason, knowing what we know about this chemical, that it should remain on the market. EPA should phase out uses and lower tolerances to zero over the next few years, locking in major risk reduction within two years, but still giving farmers time to make the transition to safer biointensive IPM systems.
“EPA made the right decision with chlorpyrifos,” Goldberg added. “Now EPA needs to take an equally critical look at diazinon. If it does, it will reach the same conclusion we did – this insecticide should be taken off the market.”
CU’s comments on diazinon can be found at http://www.ecologic-ipm.com/diazinon_comments.pdf. CU’s analysis of USDA pesticide data can be found at http://www.ecologic-ipm.com/PDP/Update_Childrens_Foods.pdf
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