Diazinon, one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States, will be phased out of home and garden use by 2004 to reduce Americans' exposure to the potentially harmful insecticide, the government said Tuesday.
The chemical still would be be available for some agricultural uses. Consumer and environmental groups called for a total ban on the insect pest and grub worm killer.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement with Syngenta AG and Makhteshim Agan to gradually end home and garden use, which accounts for 75% of the 11 million pounds applied each year.
Under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which required review of all pesticide exposure limits, EPA has targeted diazinon and other organophosphate pesticides for review because they post the greatest potential risk to children.
Organophosphates are a group of chemicals derived from nerve gas agents developed during World War II. Symptoms of overexposure can include nausea, headaches, dizziness, diarrhea and general weakness. Children are considered especially vulnerable because their systems are developing.
EPA Administrator Carol Browner said the phase-out "will significantly eliminate the vast majority of organophosphate insecticide products in and around the home and . . . will help encourage consumers to move to safer pest control practices."
Used in everything from household ant and roach killers to grub-killing lawn sprays, diazinon is marketed under such brands as Ortho, Spectracide and Real-Kill.
"Children's exposure is a major concern with diazinon," said Adam Goldberg of Consumers Union. The consumer group said it is used on grapes, green beans, peaches and leafy green vegetables, as well as lawns, parks and other areas where children play.
The agreement between EPA and the two makers calls for:
* Canceling approval for diazinon in household uses in March 2001; all retail sales must stop by December 2002.
* Manufacturing of the pesticide for lawn, garden and turf uses to end in June 2003, with sales and distribution to retailers stopping in August 2003. Makers will implement a product recovery program in 2004 to assure phase-out of use.
* Curtailing production of diazinon for lawn, garden and turf uses by 25% in 2002 and by 50% in 2003.
* Beginning the process to cancel about 20 different uses of diazinon on food crops. A farm group spokesman said diazinon is approved for about 60 crops.