Lawsuit Seeks Ban on Common Agricultural Pesticide

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Two environmental groups are trying to force the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban a pesticide commonly used in agriculture. The household form of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, sold by Dow Chemical under the brand name Dursban, was already banned in 2001. The agricultural version, Lorsban, is still on the market.

In June 2000, after a lengthy review, the EPA reached an agreement with Dow Chemical to ban most home and garden uses of Dursban, citing health risks to children. The agency also required that Dursban use be phased out in areas where children would be most likely to be exposed – schools, daycare centers, parks and recreation areas, stores and malls.

In the past, Dow Chemical has faced allegations that it withheld information about Dursban’s risks, and marketed it as a safe pesticide, despite knowing the opposite was true. In 1995, for instance, Dow was fined $732,000 for not sending the EPA its reports on 249 Dursban poisoning incidents.

In 2003, Dow agreed to pay $2 million – the largest penalty ever in a pesticide case – to the state of New York. The state had filed suit against Dow for repeatedly violating a 1994 agreement that prohibited advertising that touted the safety of its pesticide products. However, an investigation found that almost immediately after the company entered into the agreement, it once again began to make misleading safety claims in its print, video and internet advertising.

According to a complaint filed in New York state by by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America, chlorpyrifos is toxic to humans and can cause muscle spasms, dizziness, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea and paralysis, according to the lawsuit. The two groups want the EPA to act on a three-year-old petition to remove the product from the market. EarthJustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the two groups.

“This dangerous pesticide has no place in our fields, near our children, or on our food,” Earthjustice attorney Kevin Regan said in a statement. “We’re asking a court to rule so that EPA will finish the job and ban this poison.”

A number of other countries have already outlawed use of chlorpyrifos, including South Africa in May. However, it is still widely used in the US as an insecticide on corn, grapes, oranges, almonds and other crops, on golf courses and for pest control in urban areas.

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