Attack of the Killer Weeds

Pesticide Hypocrisy on Capitol Hill

December 14, 1999

Attack of the Killer Weeds: Abuses of the Program

"Emergencies" are Increasing

There is no standard set of health studies required to prove the safety of pesticides granted emergency or crisis exemptions under Section 18 of FIFRA. Decisions to allow a Section 18 use are made on a case by case basis. And as noted above, Section 18 exempts state and federal officials requesting them from all provisions of pesticide law (40 CFR 166). Since the passage of FQPA, the EPA has granted fewer Section 18’s for some groups of pesticides known to present significant risks to children, including probable human carcinogens and organophosphate insecticides. Overall, however, the flow of exemptions has increased dramatically since the passage of the new law.

EWG's analysis of recent data from the EPA shows that the agency issued an average of 308 emergency exemptions from pesticide rules each year during the three years prior to the passage of FQPA - August 1, 1993 through July 31, 1996. Earlier agency records show that the EPA issued about the same number of Section 18 exemptions per year from 1989 through 1992. Since passage of the new law and its supposed tougher restrictions on Section 18 uses, the number of emergency exemptions has nearly doubled, to 366 in 1996-97, 426 in 1997-98 and 573 in 1998-99 (Figure 3). Large agricultural states, not surprisingly, received the most Section 18 exemptions. Since 1993, California was the top recipient with 253, followed by Washington with 201, Oregon with 174, Texas with 135, Idaho with 120 and Florida with 116 (Table 3).

Figure 3. The number of Section 18 exemptions granted has nearly doubled since FQPA was passed.

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. EPA data.

Chronic "Emergencies"

Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act is designed to get pesticides with incomplete health and safety reviews into the hands of farmers faced with real emergencies that would threaten the viability of their crops. Many of the so-called "emergencies", however, are highly suspect. None are more dubious than the repeated "emergency" use of the same pesticide on the same crop year after year. Repeated emergencies suggest that the pest infestation is routine, and not an unexpected emergency event. If pesticide uses are repeatedly needed, their risks should be fully evaluated under the children’s health provisions of FQPA.

EWG's analysis of EPA records reveal 90 situations where states requested exemptions to use the same pesticide on the same crop in at least five of the last seven years; 66 of these were granted (Table 5). Twelve of these "emergencies" arose seven years in a row, 17 were for six of seven possible years, and 61 were for five of the last seven years. The passage of FQPA did nothing to stop this trend; states have applied 144 times for the same exemption during the three years since FQPA was passed.

Phony Crises

Another commonly abused provision is the crisis exemption, which allows states to authorize the use of pesticides for two weeks no EPA review at all. Since 1993 the number of crisis exemptions issued per year has risen by 160 percent, from 51 to 133. This trend accelerated after FQPA was passed (Figure 4).

Figure 4. The number of Section 18 "crisis" exemptions granted increased sharply after FQPA was passed in 1996.

Source: Environmental Working Group. Compiled from U.S. EPA data.

What makes this increase even more suspect is the increase in the number of crisis exemptions for weeds. These exemptions for weeds increased nearly 70 percent after the passage of the FQPA. By 1998, nearly a fifth of all ‘crisis’ exemptions were for weeds.