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U.S. Probes Claim That Lab Falsified Data on Pesticides

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department are investigating charges that a Texas laboratory falsified data used to determine the amounts of pesticide residues that remain on food products, the EPA announced Friday.

EPA officials said they began the investigation after pesticide manufacturers that had hired Craven Laboratories of Austin, Tex., expressed concern to them last summer that the lab was manipulating data used to determine pesticide residues on grocery products.

Those reports, along with results of a scheduled EPA inspection of the laboratory in September, led to a criminal investigation by the EPA and the Justice Department, Linda Fisher, an EPA assistant administrator, said. However, the Justice Department would not comment on whether it was investigating the firm.

EPA officials refused to disclose the specific allegations against Craven. However, they said the issue was whether the alleged manipulation might have unduly minimized the health risks posed by certain pesticides.

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The EPA has identified 17 pesticides manufactured by 11 companies as being involved in the possibly fraudulent data. They include several varieties of EBDC, or ethylene bisdithiocarbamate, a fungicide that the EPA is in the process of banning from use on most food crops because of cancer risks.

Despite their concerns about the test results, EPA officials said they do not believe that consumers or the environment suffered any ill effects as a result of the alleged falsifications by Craven.

However, environmentalists disagreed with that.

“Depending on the data falsified, products that are more hazardous than previously thought could be entering the food chain and the environment and putting humans and wildlife at higher risks,” said Sandra Marquardt of Greenpeace.

Jay Feldman of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, argued that the pesticides involved ought to be banned until new residue studies are completed.

The EPA has identified more than a hundred studies performed by Craven that have been submitted to the department since the lab was opened in 1975.

Vida Federighi of the California Department of Food and Agriculture said the department has identified at least 41 studies performed by Craven that were submitted to the state agency for environmental impact testing. The department believes that it also received residue studies conducted by Craven and is continuing its investigation.

A Craven Labs employee said that company officers were not available for comment Friday afternoon.

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