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Stiffer Pesticide Controls Backed : Industry, Environmental Groups OK Law Changes

Times Staff Writer

The chemical industry and major environmental groups have agreed on sweeping revisions in the federal law regulating pesticides, which would require new health data on scores of common farm chemicals and hasten the banning of dangerous ones, House experts said Monday.

The accord raises hopes that Congress will end a seven-year stalemate among farm, industry and environmental groups and pass a tougher version of the 1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act sometime next year, the sources said.

The little-known law, a key environmental statute, has come under growing criticism this year in the wake of several pesticide factory accidents and poison scares involving chemical-sprayed watermelons, grain and other crops.

One House aide said that the compromise shows “a degree of political maturity” between the two sides, each of which has just enough legislative clout to block the other’s pesticide bills.

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“I think the industry was looking at Bhopal and talking to its lawyers and realized it was taking a beating in press and in the courts,” the aide said, referring to the chemical leak in Bhopal, India, last December that killed more than 2,000 persons. “You can call it exhaustion on both sides, but I’d call it a realization that neither side was winning in this fight.”

About 15,000 pesticides, largely made up of 150 to 200 chemicals, are approved for farm use by the Environmental Protection Agency. Adequate scientific data on health or environmental hazards such as ground water contamination exist for about 10% to 30% of the chemicals, according to congressional and EPA estimates.

Congress ordered the EPA in 1972 to gather new health data and “re-register” all pesticides approved under the 1947 act. But, because of budget and bureaucratic problems, only a handful has completed the lengthy scientific review necessary to win new approval. EPA officials have estimated that an agency review of existing pesticides could take until the year 2000.

Review Time Could Be Cut

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The industry-environmentalist accord, to be announced at a news conference Wednesday, could reduce the total review time to as few as six years, House aides said. The major provision would allow the EPA one year to identify the remaining gaps in its scientific data on pesticides and then require pesticide makers to fill those gaps with new laboratory studies in no more than five years.

In a key concession by pesticide makers, the industry would finance the studies with a one-time “user fee” to be levied against manufacturers under a still-undecided formula.

The agreement also would set new procedures for canceling use permits for pesticides that are shown to be dangerous. Among other provisions, the accord sets more sensitive “triggers” for ruling that a pesticide is hazardous, streamlines the process for banning or limiting a product’s farm uses and orders more public involvement in the cancellation process.

The legislative compromise is the result of months of talks between environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and an array of farm chemical makers, including FMC Corp., Eli Lilly, Shell Chemical and E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

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Formal Approval Lacking

It lacks formal approval by top leaders of both the companies and environmental groups and may face opposition from powerful farmers’ groups and industries that use pesticide chemicals in their own products. Moreover, the EPA itself has stood apart from the negotiations, raising questions about whether the Reagan Administration will support the proposal.

But House aides and others familiar with the accord said that it significantly brightens chances that the pesticide legislation will clear Congress in the 1986 election year.

Among a dozen other proposed changes in the current law, the compromise would strengthen the public’s access to data on chemicals used at pesticide factories, tighten rules governing the export of pesticides deemed too hazardous for domestic use and provide for speedy review of a number of products whose EPA approval may have been based on faulty scientific data.

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