02 September 2022, California: Today the Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed legal papers seeking to strike down the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) March 2022 approval of difenoconazole, a potent fungicide increasingly sprayed on a wide range of fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, grapes, and soybeans.
CFS launched the lawsuit in June. Today’s filing asks the Court to reverse the EPA’s registration because the agency failed to consider or protect endangered species from difenoconazole’s risks as well as the agency’s failure to obtain and consider studies on the risks difenoconazole poses to human health.
“EPA reapproved this toxic fungicide while blatantly, and intentionally, violating core public health and environmental protection laws. EPA knows difenoconazole can harm hundreds of endangered species, but didn’t even consider them,” said Meredith Stevenson, staff attorney at CFS and counsel in the case. “For twenty years EPA has known more studies are needed on the risks difenoconazole poses to public health, but failed to collect them — undermining its entire human health risk assessment! Today we are asking the Court to revoke this unlawful approval without further delay.”
Throughout the EPA review process culminating with the March 2022 registration decision, the agency admitted that it ignored its duty to assess the impacts to endangered species under ESA and, most importantly, consult with the expert wildlife agencies — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service — about those risks. EPA’s own analysis found that difenoconazole exposure exceeds the level of concern for birds, aquatic invertebrates, and freshwater fish. Numerous endangered species are at risk from difenoconazole, including the California condor, whooping crane, Atlantic sturgeon, smalltooth sawfish, and many others.
Difenoconazole threatens people as well as endangered species. As far back as 2000, EPA was already so concerned about the toxicity of difenoconazole and other triazole fungicides — in particular that certain chemicals formed when these fungicides break down — that it imposed a moratorium on further approvals until triazole manufacturers submitted a host of animal studies. The studies were to further assess the breakdown products’ ability to cause cancer and impair the developing infant’s brain and other organs. But even though the manufacturers refused to submit the studies, EPA dropped the moratorium in 2006 and opened the floodgates to approve a host of new triazole fungicides and new uses of those that had already been approved.
“We are most sensitive to the damaging effects of pesticides and other chemicals while in the womb,” said Bill Freese, science director at CFS. “It is deplorable that EPA caved to the pesticide industry rather than demanding studies to investigate the potential for difenoconazole and over a dozen similar fungicides to disrupt the brain at this critical stage of development.”
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