A consumer group founded by Ralph Nader called Wednesday for prompt congressional action to strengthen the nation's pesticide control law, after it completed a study that found that only seven dangerous pesticides have been banned or voluntarily withdrawn from the market since 1975.
At the same time, Nader's Public Citizen's Congress Watch charged that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces the law, took far too long to complete its review of the most dangerous pesticides, many of which were put on the market before they were fully examined for their possible impact on human health and the environment.
Instead of taking 18 months as the EPA estimated in 1975, the group said the agency took an average of four years and five months to complete action on a single pesticide.
'Failed to Protect'
"This program has failed," the group said. "Seriously flawed since its inception, the special review process has been plagued by long delays, and has failed to protect the public and environment from pesticide hazards."
The charges were dismissed as "unfounded rhetoric" by EPA spokesman Albert Heier in a telephone interview from Washington.
Heier said that 41 of 57 chemicals on the special review list have been examined. Of the 41, he said 11 have been withdrawn from the market, and restrictions have been placed on another 30. There are approximately 600 active pesticide ingredients awaiting licensing, many of them already in use.
But, Heier said, the EPA has long supported many of the "strengthening amendments" to the pesticide law backed by Congress Watch and other environmental organizations.
Heier said that under the review process, the EPA first identifies a potentially hazardous chemical and then spends 13 to 15 months to decide whether to remove it from the market or place restrictions on its use. Once a decision is made, the manufacturer may appeal the decision to an administrative law judge. The appeal can add another two years to the process.
"In the meantime, the pesticide remains on the market. This process does not serve public health or the environment well," Heier acknowledged.
Congress Watch said Wednesday that the law should be amended to require that any ban or restriction be enforced pending the outcome of the appeal. It also said that warning labels should be placed on all pesticides under review, many of which are widely used in households and home gardens as well as by farmers and ranchers.
At a Los Angeles press conference where the Nader report was released, David Bunn of the Nader-affiliated California Public Interest Research Group said consumers were being unnecessarily exposed to chemicals that could cause birth defects, cancer and poisoning.
He pointed to the poisoning of about 1,000 people in July, 1985, who became sick when they ate watermelons tainted with residues of aldicarb, which has been on the special review list since July, 1984. State officials at that time charged that farmers had illegally sprayed watermelons with aldicarb, which is used primarily on cotton, citrus, potatoes, peanuts, sugar beets, soybeans and pecans.