The EPA has approved a previously banned pesticide for use in Florida. Now some groups are suing.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s move to allow the use of a previously banned pesticide on citrus in Florida has sparked a lawsuit from environmental and farmworker groups.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Farmworker Association of Florida and Environmental Working Group filed the motion April 2 to keep the EPA from allowing the pesticide aldicarb to be used on 100,000 acres of oranges and grapefruit in the state.
The filing argues that the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act and the use of aldicarb would put public health and the environment at risk.
“This approval of aldicarb is just one more assault on the men and women who harvest our citrus crops in Florida, who do ‘essential’ work but who are treated as dispensable,” Jeannie Economos at Farmworker Association of Florida said in a news release. “No one should risk their health and the health of their families in the course of doing a hard day’s labor feeding America.”
While the EPA has agreed to the use of aldicarb to help with citrus greening for three growing seasons, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer services has not approved its use in the state.
Jonathan Evans, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the push to reallow aldicarb was a last-minute effort by former President Donald Trump’s administration.
“It was a really hasty decision that we don’t think was well thought out and clearly goes against environmental health and public protections,” Evans said. “Floridians deserve to know their citrus and groundwater is safe and that wildlife won’t be poisoned.”
The World Health Organization listed aldicarb as an extremely hazardous ingredient in pesticides back in 2009 and two years later, the EPA and Bayer, the manufacturer at the time, agreed to discontinue its use.
“EPA’s August 2010 risk assessment indicates that aldicarb no longer meets the Agency’s rigorous food safety standards and may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to infants and young children,” that agreement says. “To ensure we have the safest food supply possible, EPA is initiating action to terminate uses of aldicarb, and also plans to revoke aldicarb tolerances.”
AgLogic Chemical, an aldicarb manufacturer in North Carolina, applied in December for new uses for the pesticide. The application proposed use on oranges and grapefruit in Florida and Texas, but the EPA only moved forward with use in Florida.
Olga Naidenko, with the Environmental Working Group, said in a news release that aldicarb is a neurotoxic pesticide especially risky for young children who may be exposed through food.
“The EPA must follow the science and not the demands of the pesticide industry and ban the use of aldicarb on Florida’s citrus crops,” she said.
The EPA received slightly more than 8,000 letters in response to AgLogic’s application, the vast majority from a mass letter campaign opposing the use of aldicarb.
In its responses to the opposing comments, the EPA said it has determined the use of aldicarb “will not significantly increase the risk of unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” if used properly.
The EPA did identify a potential ecological risk to bees but said pollinator data would be required as a condition of use.
While the legal action makes its way through the courts, Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani said the pesticide has health risk implications for people and the environment.
“The concern here is that, in the interim as this is working its way through court, that farmers in Florida will be using aldicarb,” he said. “That could have unintended consequences.”
Depending on how much is used and where it’s used, Cassani said there is some concern of runoff entering public receiving waters.
“A single granule can kill a bird, so it’s toxic stuff and that’s why it was universally banned years ago,” he said. “I don’t know what the administration was thinking they were doing.”
To minimize potential runoff, the EPA is requiring aldicarb be at least 3 inches under the soil and setback restrictions of 500-1000 feet would be in place to minimize exposure to drinking water sources.
Evans said that the area of the state aldicarb would be used is low-lying and said the EPA found issues of groundwater contamination there.
“Even if they’re burying it, it still leeches into groundwater that can get into water well supplies and surface water sources,” he said. “There’s a setback for wells, but even with that it’s still very concerning overall.”
Aldicarb is persistent, Evans said, meaning it stays in the environment well after it is first applied to crops. He said testing done in New York found that years later, levels of aldicarb in the environment are still beyond what is allowable.
Currently, Florida allows aldicarb on cotton and peanut crops in restricted use applications. Registration for use on citrus is still pending.
“We have so many problems with contaminants in our waters now,” Cassani said. “This is just another one of those things that create a potential for more systemic harm in the environment that can also harm people. How are we evaluating risk? Is it purely a profit driven evaluation?”
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk