EPA Curbs Use of Common Bug Killer Dursban


The Clinton administration Thursday announced that it will ban all over-the-counter sales and most nonagricultural uses of Dursban, one of the most common household and garden pesticides, but its chief manufacturer insisted that the chemical is safe and vowed to continue selling it overseas.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the agreement with Dow AgroSciences and other manufacturers to remove the chemical, also known as chlorpyrifos and sold under another trade name, Lorsban. The chemical is used in more than 800 brands of bug-killing sprays, pet collars, and lawn and household products.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner said that the agreement allows products containing the chemical--such as Ortho Lawn Insect Spray, Real Kill Wasp & Hornet Killer II and Spectracide Dursban Indoor & Outdoor Insect Control--to remain on retail shelves until the end of 2001 but orders production halted by the end of this year.


“We are turning off the manufacture of this chemical . . . for garden and home uses,” Browner said.

The agreement curtails use of the chemical by commercial firms and agribusinesses. Tight restrictions will be imposed on the pesticide’s use on some agricultural products, specifically apples and grapes, and it will be banned for use on tomatoes. The restrictions are designed to eliminate the chemical’s residue on foods often eaten by children. The pesticide still will be available for use on many grains and other crops.

Browner said EPA studies found that the chemical led to brain damage in fetal rats whose mothers were fed the chemical, suggesting that it might pose a serious threat to the nervous systems and brain development of children.

Environmental Groups Praise Decision

Those findings are disputed by Dow officials, who had fought to continue selling the chemical in the United States. But environmental groups praised the EPA decision.

“We think this is a very big and important step in the right direction,” said Jacqueline Hamilton, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group.

The ban represents the EPA’s most significant and wide-ranging action since Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act, a 1996 law that ordered the agency to review the potential health effects of so-called food-class chemicals on children.

Hamilton said the EPA is investigating whether to ban almost 40 other chemicals that environmentalists believe are hazardous. But EPA officials “have been dragging their feet on protecting people from chemical exposure,” she said. “Let’s get to the really big step of protecting people from the cumulative exposure to this entire class of chemicals.”

Todd Hettenbach, a pesticide policy analyst at the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research group, said that, since the government action does not immediately require retailers to remove chlorpyrifos-laced products from store shelves, his organization has launched a campaign to persuade retailers to move more quickly.

“We are calling on retail chains to . . . remove the products immediately,” Hettenbach said. “We will be educating consumers to put some pressure on the chains.”

The first step, he added, is a letter-writing campaign to the Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s store chains. In a letter sent to the chief executives of those retailers, the group requested that they demonstrate “environmental and public health leadership by immediately removing products that contain chlorpyrifos from your store shelves.”

Jessica Moser, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said that the company has decided to remove all chlorpyrifos-based products from its stores by the end of October, 14 months ahead of the EPA deadline.

“This was a business choice that we had to make because the rules have changed, but the safety of chlorpyrifos remains the same,” said Elin Miller, a vice president at Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. “We felt we had no choice but to reach an agreement with the EPA.”

Miller said that a global panel of scientists has researched the chemical and approved it for retail sales in other countries. “We’re in disagreement with the [U.S.] policy choice because it is inconsistent with what the World Health Organization has decided.”

But confronted with a protracted and expensive battle that likely would have failed, the chemical industry agreed to the ban, she said. “We are concerned that consumers in this country will not have choices,” Miller said, noting that the product has been used to combat disease-carrying ticks and cockroaches.

“This product has been used for 30 years in this country and is the most widely studied pesticide in the world. But [now it] will not be available to consumers.”

Chemical to Be Made Available

Miller said that the chemical would continue to be available domestically in some professional and agricultural markets and that Dow will continue to manufacture and sell the chemical in about 80 foreign markets.

About 11 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are used each year by farmers and fruit growers; about 5 million pounds by industrial, commercial and government buyers; and about 3 million pounds by the home and garden market. Sales in the mid-1990s were about $500 million a year, according to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a Washington research firm.

Environmental groups estimated that production and marketing of the chemical, which is among a family of 45 pesticides known as organophosphates, has accounted for about $100 million in revenue for Dow.


Products With Dursban

The pesticide chlorpyrifos is commonly sold under the trade name Dursban and Lorsban. Additional information about the ban, and alternative methods of pest control, are available at on the Internet.

Some products containing the pesticide:

Borer and Leaf Miner Spray by Ortho

Dursban Lawn and Garden Insect Control by Ortho

Dursban Lawn Insect Spray by Ortho

Ortho-Klor Soil Insect and Termite Killer

Real Kill Wasp & Hornet Killer II

Dursban Ready-Spray Outdoor Flea & Tick Killer

Spectracide Dursban Indoor & Outdoor Insect Control

Ant-Stop Ant Killer Dust by Ortho

Dursban TC termiticide by Dow AgroSciences

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency; Times research