A friend pointed me in the direction of this letter by EPA union leaders about the upcoming re-registration of some very commonly used organophosphate and carbamate pesticides. This ens-newswire article provides an excellent summary.
In the absence of “a robust body of data” the union leaders remind Johnson that the Food Quality Protection Act requires the EPA to use “an additional 10-fold safety factor in its risk assessments when setting pesticide tolerances.
This is the key point, and the reason that Pesticide industry and the EPA came up with the infamous “CHEERS” study (talk about Kafkaesque naming!) to study children’s exposure knowing fully well that they would not be able to accurately assess health effects on children with an observational study. The hope was that using a short term “study” that assessed acute toxicity, they would be able to “prove” no significant harm to children and get rid of the safety factor. A factor of 10 is big, and the pesticide manufacturers hate it because the tolerances become low enough that people will be over-exposed.
Isn’t that the whole point of a safety factor? We are still figuring out what happens at low levels of exposure to certain pesticides. This is truly an Environmental Justice issue. It is not the children of EPA administrators eating non-organic fruits and veggies that are going to be exposed. The gains from eating organic food vs. non-organic are dwarfed by the incidental exposure of the families of farmworkers and other people applying pesticides. Yes, you guessed it, they do not tend to be particularly rich or influential, but they are most in need of protection from government to ensure that their children do not get exposed to levels that may be harmful. This is not about shopping at Whole Foods, which is where most of elite America hears about pesticides, this is about the people being exposed to much higher doses. The safety factor is a must to keep them safe.