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Consumers Union calls on EPA to ban arsenic-containing pesticides

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Consumers Union calls on EPA to ban arsenic-containing pesticides

Congress-directed review could delay needed action for years; Public still waiting for guidance on arsenic in apple juice

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) meeting being held today will be the start of a process that could delay government action for at least three years on the risks of arsenic, according to Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The meeting is part of a process to review the cancer and non-cancer risks from inorganic arsenic and comes after the Environmental Protection Agency was directed by Congress to stop work on its prior cancer risk assessment after several years of research.

“While more study of the scientific questions related to arsenic and cancer is always useful, the government needs to move forward now to stop the introduction of this highly toxic chemical into the environment. The more it is used, the more it gets into the environment and ultimately threatens food and water quality. We are concerned that the EPA has been directed by Congress to halt all new regulatory steps to protect public health while this new risk assessment is under way,” stated Michael Hansen, PhD, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union, who will testify at the NAS/NRC hearing Thursday.

Consumers Union is particularly concerned with an October 1, 2012, memo posted on the chemical industry’s Organic Arsenical Products Task Force website that states that the companies can continue to sell an arsenical pesticide, MSMA, used on golf courses, sod farms, and highway rights of way “for 3-4 years until the scientific review is completed.” The memo further states that that their group “fully expects the NAS review to result in a less stringent risk value for human exposure to inorganic arsenic.” To see the task force’s complete letter, visit http://www.oaptf.com/docs/pdf/00102193.PDF.

“It is highly concerning that the pesticide manufacturers believe they already know the outcome of this new scientific review. The scientific questions are important, but we already know enough about the cancer risks, and other toxic properties of arsenic for regulators to take action now. EPA should end all remaining uses of the arsenic-containing pesticide MSMA. We need the government to issue standards for arsenic in rice and apple juice and to end all uses of arsenic in drugs given to food animals,” Hansen added.

For more information on CU’s work on arsenic, visit: http://notinmyfood.org/topics/food-safety/food-contaminants/arsenic

Timeline:

September 2006—The Environmental Protection Agency concludes that all arsenical pesticides are ineligible for re-registration. For more information visit, http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/organic_arsenicals_fs.html.

September 2009—By this point, all uses for three out of four organic arsenical pesticides are phased out. Only one arsenical pesticide remains, MSMA, with a scheduled phase-out for golf courses, sod farms, and highway rights of way for December 2012. The re-registration of MSMA for the use on cotton was granted in January 2009.

July 2010—EPA completes its draft risk assessment of the cancer risks of inorganic arsenic after a seven-year process, including a review from the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board. This assessment found that the cancer potency of inorganic arsenic was much higher than previously thought, in large part due to new cancers confirmed to be associated with inorganic arsenic exposure.

Fall 2011—Studies from groups like Consumer Reports and data released by the Food and Drug Administration raise questions about the levels of arsenic in apple juice.

December 2011—Language is included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 directing the Environmental Protection Agency to contract with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct another study of the cancer and non-cancer hazards from oral exposure to inorganic arsenic. Congressional language also specifically “directs that no further action be taken to post EPA’s 2010 draft cancer assessment of inorganic arsenic as final or for the use of any risk values from this assessment in Federal regulatory or permitting decisions pending the completion of the NAS study.”

December 2012—Remaining organic arsenical pesticide, MSMA, which is used on golf course and roadsides was scheduled to be phased out, but this effort is halted.

January 2013—The National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council holds its first meeting to take public input in Washington to begin the process of developing a new risk assessment on the risks of inorganic arsenic. The new review is scheduled to take at least three years.

Media contact: David Butler, 202-462-6262, dbutler@consumer.org

*** Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.