WASHINGTON — The House voted Friday to strip away the rights of states to set their own safety standards for pesticides on food if the chemicals have been declared safe by the federal government.
The lawmakers voted 214 to 121 to give the Environmental Protection Agency the final say on pesticide safety, overriding actions that states have taken in recent years, including bans on the grain fumigant ethylene dibromide--known as EDB--and the apple-enhancer daminozide.
Pushed by the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. and a long list of farm groups, backers argued that the provision would prevent disruption of interstate commerce in foods and would not compromise public safety. It is similar to language in a bill awaiting floor action in the Senate.
In the case of EDB residues in 1983, "Aunt Jemima was OK in Oklahoma but not in Texas," said Rep. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), one of the authors of the provision. "This is an extremely unfair burden on interstate commerce."
Approval came despite arguments that the EPA has a poor track record of monitoring pesticides for health risks and has in the past acted only when forced to do so because of state pesticide bans.
"In the case of EDB, it took (the EPA) 10 years to make a decision--10 years of unnecessary exposure to the American public of a product we know is cancer causing," said Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.).
Lawmakers had earlier rejected, 183-157, an amendment by Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Calif.) that would have guaranteed states a role in the setting of residue standards.
The action came as lawmakers approved a sweeping revision of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The changes, if finally enacted by Congress, would be the first major update in the law in 14 years. The vote on final passage was 329 to 4.
The insecticide act governs use of everything from agricultural chemicals to home bug sprays, as well as setting standards for lawn-care companies and pest exterminators. First enacted in 1947 and revamped in 1972, the law has been kept in force since 1981 with a series of stopgap, short-term extensions.
The bill passed by the House would extend the law for five years and authorize spending of $463 million to carry it out over that period.
The heart of the bill calls for speeding up the process of re-examining pesticides now in wide use, but for which much health and safety information is lacking.
Those chemicals, many in use for years, were "grandfathered in" when the last major revision of the law was made in 1972, on the condition that data gaps would be filled and they would be re-evaluated later.
But the statute has proven far too cumbersome to work as its authors intended. The process of re-registering the "grandfathered" pesticides is years behind schedule, and many have never been tested to find out whether they cause cancer or other serious health problems.
Health, Safety Review
Under the House bill, the EPA would have about nine years to complete health and safety reviews for about 600 chemicals now being used under their old provisional approval.
To help speed the process, chemical companies would be required to pay $150,000 to re-register each active ingredient in a pesticide, money that would be used to help hire new regulatory staff to process the paper work. The fees could be waived for some smaller chemical-makers.
After years of dispute between chemical companies and environmental groups over how pesticides should be regulated, the logjam was broken this year with a compromise worked out between the opposing camps.
Among other provisions, the bill:
- Gives the EPA increased authority to control inert ingredients in pesticides, chemicals added to deliver or dilute the active ingredients, but which have no intended pest-killing effect.
- Makes health and safety data on chemicals available to the public, including neighbors of pesticide plants.
- Relieves farmers of legal liability for chemicals they use, so long as they are applied in accordance with the EPA's rules.
- Establishes an occupational health program for workers who mix, load, apply or are otherwise exposed to pesticides.
- Sets up requirements that the EPA establish standards for pesticide residues in ground water, and that wells be shut down if contamination exceeds those levels.