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Common Pesticide Banned as a Risk to Children


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June 8, 2000 (Washington) -- The federal government and manufacturers agreed Thursday to phase out use of one of the most widely applied pesticides because of concern that it poses health risks to children in homes, schools, and parks. Still, the product may remain on store shelves until the end of 2001, prompting complaints from some health advocates.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was banning the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos -- commonly sold under the trade names Dursban and Lorsban -- for virtually all nonagricultural uses and curtailing its application on some crops frequently eaten by children.

"The greater risk comes from home and garden products and inside the home," says EPA administrator Carol Browner. "The significant action we take today is virtually eliminating all of those uses."

Chlorpyrifos is among a family of 45 pesticides known as organophosphates that attack the nervous system and are under review by the EPA because of their potential health effects on children. Congress passed a law four years ago requiring the review to be completed by October 1999, but so far only a handful of the chemicals have been examined.

More than 800 products contain chlorpyrifos, including pet flea collars, lawn care products, and a variety of bug sprays used indoors and on lawns and gardens. It is one of the most widely used pesticides with more than 20 million pounds sold each year, officials said.

An agreement between the EPA and six manufacturers calls for all retail sales to end in 18 months, although new production of the chemical is to stop by the end of the year for virtually all nonagricultural uses.

"We are turning off the manufacture of this chemical ... for garden and home uses," declares Browner, predicting the chemical will be largely off store shelves by the end of the year, because the market "will dry up."

Dow AgroScience, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical and the leading manufacturer of the pesticide, said it remains convinced the chemical is safe if used properly but that "it no longer made business sense in the current regulatory environment" to continue making the chemical for uses other than agricultural. That's because a 1996 law requires the EPA to impose much tougher restrictions on a pesticide's use if it is found to pose a special risk to children.

The EPA also said it is imposing tighter restrictions on the pesticide's use on some agricultural products, specifically apples and grapes, and ban its use on tomatoes. These restrictions are designed to eliminate the chemical's residues on foods often consumed by children. The pesticide may still be used on a variety of grains and other crops.

While environmentalists and health advocates generally praise the move, they question why the EPA did not pursue a recall of products already on shelves and in the pipeline. Actual retail sales will not have to end until Dec. 31, 2001 under the agreement.

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