FMC Corp. has agreed to halt sales this year in Maryland and 13 other states of a popular farm pesticide it makes that has been blamed for poisoning many birds, including bald eagles around Chesapeake Bay.
The Chicago chemical and machinery manufacturer also announced yesterday that it has agreed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to halt all but minor uses nationwide of its granular Furadan pesticide by 1995.
An FMC spokesman said the agreement ends a special EPA review of its product's risks to birds that began in October 1985, and it provides "an orderly transition" that will allow the company time to develop other pesticides to replace Furadan.
But the agreement was immediately assailed by environmentalists, who questioned why EPA has backed away from its call more than two years ago for an immediate and near-total ban on the product after documenting numerous bird kills linked with its use.
"This is yet another example of EPA's continued failure to act when the risks are substantial and the benefits are non-existent," said Susan Cooper of the National Coalition Against Misuse of Pesticides. She accused EPA of permitting more birds to be poisoned to spare FMC from being stuck with unsold pesticide stocks.
"Allowing continued sales of this product for several more years is equivalent to letting a killer keep shooting until he has used all his bullets," said Robert Irvin, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation.
EPA Administrator William K. Reilly said the agreement "will dramatically reduce risks to birds in a short period of time, and will avoid a lengthy cancellation process."
The agency rejected measures that fell short of the phase-out, such as additional cautionary labeling, limiting use of the pesticide to certain times of the year or limiting application rates.
"None of these reduction measures were adequate to reduce the risk to birds, given the high toxicity of carbofuran granules," the EPA said in a news release today.
The phase-out of granular carbofuran does not affect the production or sale of the liquid form of the pesticide.
In Maryland, the sales cutoff of granular Furadan Sept. 1 could hurt growers of cucumbers, cantaloupes, watermelons, pumpkins and squash because there are no other pesticides on the market for use on those crops, said Jack Miller, director of the Maryland Farm Bureau.
But for growers of corn and soybeans, the two biggest crops on which Furadan is used, there are other pesticides available, said Mary Ellen Setting, chief of pesticide regulation for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Maryland farmers' use of carbofuran, the common chemical name for Furadan, has plummeted since EPA began its review of the pesticide. About 260,000 pounds of the chemical were applied to fields in 1988, down 57 percent from 1985, according to state surveys.
Besides Maryland, other states where FMC plans to halt sales of granular Furadan on Sept. 1 are Delaware, Virginia, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
FMC also will pull Furadan from the coastal counties of four other states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Washington.
The company agreed to cap its U.S. sales of granular Furadan at 4.5 million pounds over the next two years. Though company officials refuse to disclose current sales of the pesticide, environmentalists said that level would not require much, if any, reduction in overall sales.
FMC pledged to cut sales back to 400,000 pounds in the 1994 growing season and then to sell no more than 2,500 pounds from 1995 on. The company would withdraw its registrations for using the pesticide on corn, sorghum and rice in 1993 and 1994, but only after another "informal" EPA review of the product's risks.
The gradual phase-down of granular Furadan production should not have much impact on FMC's South Baltimore plant, where some of the pesticide's ingredients are made, says company spokesman Jeff Jacoby. The plant employs about 300.
The agreement does not limit FMC's exports of Furadan, nor does it apply to the liquid form of the pesticide. Jacoby said foreign sales were significant, though he did not cite any figures.
The agreement also halts sales, but not necessarily use, of the pesticide. Farmers who buy Furadan before Sept. 1 will be able to use it in the 1992 growing season, Jacoby said.
Virginia officials last week banned further use of the pesticide effective June 1, after it was found to have killed birds at seven farms there this spring. But Maryland officials say no similar ban is planned here on use of pesticide stocks remaining after Sept. 1.
Birds apparently mistake the tiny Furadan granules for food, and a single grain is enough to kill a small songbird. Eagles and other birds of prey are killed when they feed on poisoned birds and animals. Eagle poisonings were documented in Maryland and Virginia in the late 1980s.
Jacoby acknowledged yesterday that in the wake of bird kills in tTC Delaware and Virginia this year and last, FMC had been unable to convince EPA that the pesticide's risks could be curbed.