EPA restricts use of two pesticides

Regulations are first intended specifically to protect children

August 03, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency banned yesterday most uses of a pesticide applied widely for years on fruits and vegetables and tightened restrictions on another, in the first regulations intended specifically to protect children.

Starting next year, the pesticide methyl parathion may not be used on a wide variety of crops from apples to turnips. The pesticide, mainly used by farmers, has been heavily regulated for years.

Last year, 4.2 million pounds of methyl parathion was applied over 4.9 million acres, but 75 percent of the pounds and acreage produced cotton, corn and wheat, which are not affected by yesterday's ban. No figures were available on use of the second chemical. But the chemicals are widely used on such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that it is very difficult for consumers to know if they are present in commercially grown food.

While the limits go into effect next year, as a practical matter, officials said, farmers would not use any more of the chemical this season, because the time for using them is past. But they have available a variety of new, less hazardous chemicals, or they can use natural predators, including bugs.

The two pesticides restricted yesterday are organophosphates, used to kill insects by disrupting nerve impulses; they have the same effect on humans. Some organophosphates were used as nerve agents during World War II, and some were brought into agricultural use as a replacement for DDT, which was banned in 1972.

The chemicals have been shown to cause illness in agricultural workers and, on the basis of animal tests, are presumed to hurt children.

Children may be more vulnerable because they eat proportionately more fruits and vegetables than adults, and because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing, according to scientists.

But data on children are incomplete, and Congress unanimously passed a law in 1996, the Food Quality Protection Act, telling the EPA to compensate by applying a margin of safety 10 times larger than the limits it previously set on cumulative exposure to traces of the chemicals.

Organophosphates have been restricted for years and most have names unfamiliar to consumers. However, some exterminators have used methyl parathion indoors, where there is no sunlight to break it down, causing major environmental problems. Such use killed two children in Tunica, Miss., in 1984 and made two in Pascagoula, Miss., severely ill in 1996.

Pub Date: 8/03/99

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