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EPA Sued Over Children's Exposure to Pesticides


By Gail Appleson


Mon Sep 15, 3:59 PM ET, NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency was sued by four states and a coalition of conservation, public health and farmworker groups on Monday for failing to protect children from unsafe levels of pesticide residue found in food.  The plaintiffs, who filed two separate cases in Manhattan federal court, seek court orders forcing the EPA to comply with a 1996 law requiring that the agency set pesticide residue standards 10 times stricter than those considered acceptable for adults.


One of the suits was brought by the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey. The other case was brought by an 11-member group that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pesticide Action Network North America, the Breast Cancer Fund, and the Physicians for Social Responsibility.  Both cases focus on a group of high-risk pesticides used on fruits, vegetables and nuts commonly eaten by children.


"Some of these pesticides are so toxic that a teaspoon can cause acute poisoning in people, resulting in seizures and coma," the NRDC suit said. "One is so potent that the EPA says to protect against acute toxicity, a toddler should not be exposed to an amount weighing less than a single grain of salt per day.  Lower doses over time may cause neurological damage, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and cancer."  Despite this, the EPA has waived the required tenfold safety factor for the pesticides, the NRDC charged.  EPA spokesman Dave Deegan said he could not comment specifically on suits until the lawyers had reviewed the papers, but added, "The EPA has not deviated from our ongoing efforts to completely implement the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996."  


The suits state that children are far more susceptible to harm from pesticide residue on food than adults. This is because they are undergoing rapid growth; do not have mature metabolic functions to deal with toxic residues and because they consume more food for their size than adults.  They said that the EPA had based residue limits on data from adults but that Congress passed the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act to require the agency to set residue levels that are safe for children. The act requires the EPA use an additional tenfold margin of safety to account for the special susceptibility of infants and children when establishing tolerances for pesticides in food.  The tougher standard can be waived only when there is comprehensive scientific information showing that a lesser standard is still safe for children.


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