18 July 2023, San Francisco: Following legal pressure from Center for Food Safety (CFS) and courts, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn its interim approval of difenoconazole, a potent and toxic fungicide sprayed on a wide range of fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, grapes, and soybeans.
Numerous endangered species are at risk from difenoconazole, including the California condor, whooping crane, Atlantic sturgeon, smalltooth sawfish, and many others. Center for Food Safety legally challenged EPA’s interim approval of this pesticide in June 2022, asking the court to reverse EPA’s interim decision because the agency failed to consider or protect endangered species from difenoconazole’s risks and failed to obtain or consider studies on the risks difenoconazole poses to human health.
“We are pleased that EPA withdrew their erroneous approval,” said Meredith Stevenson, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety and counsel in the case. “Despite knowing of difenoconazole’s potential impacts on human health for nearly two decades, EPA made its original decision before obtaining the studies it requested to keep the public safe.”
Stevenson added: “That failure was both unlawful and irresponsible. We hope that following withdrawal, EPA will promptly obtain the necessary information and ensure ongoing use of difenoconazole meets the legal standard before issuing a new approval.”
Following CFS’s lawsuit, the EPA admitted that it ignored its duty to assess the impacts to species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and, most importantly, to consult with the expert wildlife agencies — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service — about those risks.
EPA also admitted it failed to obtain studies that it had requested nearly twenty years ago to further assess how the fungicide’s breakdown products may cause cancer and impair infants’ brains and other vital organs. As a result of CFS’s challenge, EPA withdrew the decision, agreed to consider whether the studies are still necessary, and agreed to complete its duties under the ESA.
EPA’s own initial analysis found that difenoconazole exposure exceeds the level of concern for birds, aquatic invertebrates, and freshwater fish. As far back as 2006, EPA expressed concern about the toxicity of difenoconazole and other triazole fungicides—in particular, concern over certain chemicals formed when these fungicides break down—and imposed a moratorium on further approvals until triazole manufacturers submitted a host of animal impact studies.
EPA will now consider whether these studies are still required and will comply with the ESA before issuing a final registration review decision for difenoconazole.
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