In a move that could lead to bans on popular insect repellents, pet flea collars and other pesticides, the California Environmental Protection Agency has begun notifying manufacturers who failed to complete mandatory toxicity studies.
Fourteen untested pesticides used in 535 products are affected by the notices.
"Pesticide manufacturers who delay completion of health and safety studies will not be tolerated," Cal/EPA chief James M. Strock said. Manufacturers were supposed to have pledged by last March that they would begin tests on the chemicals.
But despite the tough talk, it was unclear just how many of the products could be outlawed. Notification is only the first step in a bureaucratic process that allows for deadline extensions and appeals by manufacturers.
Manufacturers who promise to perform the toxicity studies may, on a case-by-case basis, be allowed to continue selling the products while the studies are under way, and studies can take up to four years.
Nonetheless, the action announced Wednesday was a sharp departure from the Department of Food and Agriculture's more lenient regulatory practices. Last month, pesticide regulation was handed over to a reorganized Department of Pesticide Regulation.
A state spokeswoman conceded Wednesday that Cal/EPA acted in part because of criticism from several state lawmakers--and because of pending legislation that would take an even tougher stand against untested pesticides.
"We have certainly been criticized enough over the years," spokeswoman Veda Federighi said.
Most recently, the state came under fire after the July 15 Southern Pacific train derailment near Dunsmuir, when the toxic weed killer metam-sodium fouled a 45-mile stretch of the Sacramento River, killing fish and plant life. Critics said the state had insufficient toxicity data on the pesticide.
Several of the 14 chemicals are extensively used by California growers, but Federighi said it is unknown what impact a ban would have on the state's crops.
Consumers may be hardest hit, she said. One of the chemicals is the most widely used active ingredient in insect repellents for both humans and pets. Known as DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide), it is used in 72 products.
Another is naphthalene, an insecticide and fumigant and an active ingredient in some mothballs.
The other 12 are chloroneb, chloropicrin, chlorthal-dimethyl, coumaphos, endothall, fenthion, methyl parathion, MSMA (monosodium methanearsonate), paraquat dichloride, resmethrin, rotenone and tetramethrin.
Under legislation that took effect in 1987, 200 active chemical ingredients were targeted for testing. The law required manufacturers to commit to tests by March 1 of that year. The deadline was later extended to March 1, 1991.
As of March, 1991, 42 of the 200 chemicals were no longer used in California. Of the remaining pesticides, testing had either been promised or undertaken for all but 14. It is those 14 that the state is moving against.