Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poison at Your Farmers Market?

What Does Kill You Won’t Make You Stronger…

My wife washes lemons with soap and water.  Oranges and limes too.  Grapes and avocados sit in soapy water and await their final rinses after an hour or so. 

“Even if we don’t eat the skin or surface part,” she warns with her wagging Buddhist forefinger, we are handling those parts of the fruit where pesticides or insecticides have been applied or contacted during the journey to the local store or farmers market. Wash them and your hands too.” 

In fact, any fruit or tree nut that is consumed totally is given the treatment – and that’s quite a few spring and summer items we put into our mouths, isn’t it?

News Release from the EPA on 3/29/2017:

WASHINGTON -- Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide crucial to U.S. agriculture.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Pruitt. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results.”

“This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.  This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States. It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables. We thank our colleagues at EPA for their hard work.”

The Market name for the insecticide Mr. Pruitt has allowed back into the food chain is Vulcan, the god thrown from heaven by Zeus/Jupiter for failing to reveal the end of his dominion.  Ironically, especially in this case, bug-killers like Vulcan will be the likely end of our dominion over earth.

The Trump EPA decision supposedly “grounded in evidence and science,” as Director Kunickis blithely points out, is in fact just the opposite.  According to a recent Mother Jones article: “Stephanie Engel, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina and a co-author of the Mount Sinai paper, says the evidence that chlorpyrifos exposure causes harm is "compelling"—and is "much stronger" even than the case against BPA (bisphenol A), the controversial plastic additive. She says babies and fetuses are particularly susceptible to damage from chlorpyrifos because they metabolize toxic chemicals more slowly than adults do. And "many adults" are susceptible, too, because they lack a gene that allows for metabolizing the chemical efficiently, Engel adds.

A ban on the use of Chlorpyriphos was finally achieved during the Obama Administration after a decade-long review of its use and the concerns on those who worked with the insecticide, manufactured by an Agri-Scientific sub company of Dow Chemical called MANA (not the Biblical succor that falls from the sky).   A Federal Appeals Court demanded a final stop to the use of the chemical at the end of March 2017; Vulcan was outlawed for use by the general population in 2000.    Note Pruitt’s timely intervention on March 29th. 

Reprise 2017?
Chlorpyriphos is classified as an organochloride insecticide.  If you’re old enough, you might remember the generous smells of DDT on warm evenings as village trucks rolled down the avenues spraying the treetops for mosquitoes.  If you’re younger, you might recall the decimation of various animals and especially bird species whose eggs were compromised by the shell-thinning effects of DDT and the later behavioral aberrations caused by PCB’s. 

Both of these chemicals were banned, of course, but it’s early in the Pruitt/Trump Administration. 

According to the EPA Release: “The public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on – and misapplication of – studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal.

The USDA disagrees with the methodology used by the previous Administration. Similarly, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also objected to EPA’s methodology. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) also expressed concerns with regard to EPA’s previous reliance on certain data the Agency had used to support its proposal to ban the pesticide.

And, of course, we didn’t have to wait too long.  On May 15, 2017, in Bakersfield, California, more than 50 workers were exposed to Vulcan sprayed upwind of them while they were picking cabbages in their fields.  The orchard next to the cabbage pickers was sprayed, but the drift of the insecticide affected the many workers.   The spray had been applied the night before, but like many persistent insecticides, the residual amount was lifted into the air during winds the next day and arrived on top of the workers in the fields.  Vulcan is considered toxic by ingestion, inhalation or even touch.

But the EPA now allows it.
Here in the Midwest, we can expect the new “tool” from the EPA to provide Vulcan for use on soybeans and corn.  To the north, apples, peaches, asparagus, and other delicacies will be subjected. 

In 2012, product manager, Keith Miller, celebrated the possibilities and competitiveness of Vulcan. “With new formulations like Vulcan performing as well as or in some cases better than competitive EC based formulations, we’re determined to answer grower and retailer requests for continued use of highly-effective solutions like chlorpyrifos,” Miller says. “Through aggressive research and innovation work, we plan to launch eight new formulations of proven products currently in our portfolio by 2013.”
Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely-used agricultural insect control solutions worldwide. First registered in the U.S. in 1965, it has been on the market for more than 40 years. Today, chlorpyrifos is registered in about 100 countries worldwide.

In fact, before 2000 Chlorpyrifos was the most widely used insecticide for family gardening.  By 2000, the then EPA had seen enough to ban its use for the general public. 

Not scared yet?

According to Tom Philpott’s article in Mother Jones: “In an analysis of the risks posed by chlorpyrifos released in November 2016, the EPA crunched data on residues found in food and compared them to the levels at which the chemical can harm the most vulnerable populations: kids and women of child-bearing age. The results (found on page 23 of the EPA doc) are startling. Natural Resources Defense Council researchers turned them into this handy graphic:”

If you’d like to place a call to Scott Pruitt, you can do so at this number:

“Hello, Mr. Pruitt.  The use of persistent and virulent organichlorides was a chapter in our natural history I do not care to return to again and one in which we cannot afford to do so.  We decimated populations of wildlife and likewise threatened ourselves with chemicals designed to increase production without concern for dangerous effects on our children and our planet.  Your decision to provide Vulcan for dusting the very fruit and vegetables that will be consumed by our families is unconscionable.  You should be ashamed as well as eventually held accountable.”

1 comment:

  1. “…Environmental law group Earthjustice listed the risks the EPA discovered through its own research into chlorpyrifos:
    • All exposure to chlorpyrifos through food exceeds safe levels of the chemical. The most exposed population is children between one and two years of age. On average, this vulnerable group is exposed to 140 times the level of chlorpyrifos the EPA deems safe.
    • Chlorpyrifos contaminates drinking water.
    • Chlorpyrifos drifts to schools, homes, and fields in toxic amounts at more than 300 feet from the fields.
    • Workers face unacceptable risks from exposures when they mix and apply chlorpyrifos and when they enter fields to tend to crops…” (