Let states and communities protect their citizens from pesticides

Let states and communities protect their citizens from pesticides rcoleman February 13, 2024
Pesticide makers could undermine state and local governments’ right to adopt rules that protect communities from exposure to toxic crop chemicals, if some members of Congress get their way. They’re looking to make their case during debates over this year’s farm bill and federal agency funding. These pesticide manufacturers want to limit states and localities from passing and enforcing additional requirements for warnings and information related from pesticides, bending the rules so that people sickened by exposure to these chemicals can’t seek any remedies. Pending House and Senate bills would achieve the companies’ goal. The bills include the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act, or H.R. 4288, and the EATS Act, or H.R. 4417/S. 2019. Proponents may try to attach the bills to the farm bill or other major legislation. If the pesticide provisions become law, crop chemical makers could avoid having to pay millions in liability cases to people sickened by exposure, even as emerging research shows many of the substances can cause cancer and other diseases. These problematic pesticides include RoundUp, which contains glyphosate, and Gramoxone, which contains paraquat. By preventing states and localities from requiring additional pesticide warnings, the companies can minimize their liability for their victims' health problems and protect their own bottom lines.
Interactive Map
This map shows the number of elementary schools within a quarter-mile or 200 feet of what the Department of Agriculture considers to be a crop field. These schools have the potential to be in the “spray zone” of pesticides that may be used on these fields. Pesticides sprayed on crop land can harm children who attend schools nearby.
Many states, cities and counties have adopted standards to restrict pesticide spraying near schools, citing the risks they pose to children. Some of these chemicals have been linked to serious health harms, including damage to the nervous system, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and harm to development and reproduction. Children are especially susceptible to potential health problems. More than 30 states – including Georgia, Kentucky and Texas – have adopted tough standards for when and how pesticides can be sprayed near schools. EWG found that 4,028 elementary schools in the U.S are located within 200 feet of a crop field where pesticides could be applied.  Some pesticides can drift miles from the intended crop target, studies show, creating risks for children at schools beyond the thousands EWG identified. Farmworkers and rural communities are most at risk to pesticide drift.

Figure: Pesticide application mostly harms farmworkers and communities of color

Congress originally intended, and the courts have agreed, that states and localities have a significant pesticide oversight role in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The law establishes the Environmental Protection Agency's baseline authority over pesticides in the U.S. but gives state and local governments the power to enact additional measures. Blocking state and local standards takes decision-making out of the hands of those most hurt by pesticide use. States and localities are often in a much better position than the EPA to assess risks quickly, consider emerging evidence, and make decisions to protect their unique local environments and communities, including schools and childcare facilities, from toxic pesticides.  Undermining that authority would handicap critical local efforts to address cancer and other health risks, threats to water resources, and harm to pollinators and other wildlife. The EPA would also be hampered by the legislative proposals. H.R. 4288 would hamstring its ability to respond to the most recent data about pesticide risks. The agency is just beginning to address the widespread use of toxic pesticides but restricting its efforts to potentially outdated assessments that may not reflect the best science will impair its ability to take swift and necessary action to protect public health.  Over 140 mayors, lawmakers and other officials from more than 30 states are standing together to urge Congress to reject legislation that would limit longstanding state and local pesticide safety rules. They’re joined by hundreds of members of Congress and 185 environmental, health and agricultural organizations, including EWG.  Congress should heed these calls and reject legislative proposals to block state and local laws put in place to safeguard communities.
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