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Methyl Parathion (Penncap-M) - Groups Quit U.S. Pesticide Panel 4/99

GROUPS QUIT U.S. PESTICIDE PANEL, CITE
CHILD SAFETY

By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON - A half-dozen consumer groups
yesterday quit a White House pesticide review panel,
saying chemical and farm interests were blocking
attempts to protect young children from suspected
cancer-causing insecticides used on peaches,
apples and other foods.

The departure of the World Wildlife Fund, Natural
Resources Defence Council, Consumers Union and
four other activist groups came after months of
growing frustration with the slow pace of the
50-member advisory panel.

At issue is how the Environmental Protection Agency
decides which pesticides in food, drinking water,
playgrounds, lawns and homes pose a health threat
to young children.

The consumer groups criticised the EPA for not
banning methyl parathion and other chemicals linked
to cancer.

Methyl parathion is widely used on peaches, apples,
pears, grapes and other diet staples of young
children. Consumers Union, using U.S. Agriculture
Department data, recently calculated that two out of
five young children eat an unsafe amount of methyl
parathion residue from peaches alone.

Ned Groth, a food safety scientist for Consumers
Union, said, "The panel is a consensus process that
takes forever and is an invitation to endless debate.
The agency needs to make hard decisions based on
the available data and go forward."

As a precaution, parents should peel fruits and
vegetables before giving them to pre-school children,
or buy organically-grown produce, Groth said.

Researchers say animal studies show the nervous
systems and reproductive organs of infants, toddlers
and small children may be vulnerable to certain
chemicals. Of particular concern to health experts
are a cheap and widely-used class of
organophosphate pesticides for fruits and vegetables
developed by the military during World War II in nerve
gas experiments.

But U.S. growers, now facing low commodity prices
and stiff international competition, have pressed the
EPA for more studies and proof that certain
chemicals are dangerous.

That has resulted in a virtual deadlock on the
pesticide advisory panel created one year ago by
Vice President Al Gore. At that time, Gore said he
expected the panel to make final recommendations
to the EPA by September 1998. The group, which
met Tuesday, was scheduled to meet several times
this summer.

Gore, who is expected to seek the Democratic
presidential nomination, has tried to walk a tightrope
between farm and environmental interests in the
debate.

A sweeping 1996 law ordered the EPA to evaluate
3,000 U.S.-registered pesticides by August 1999 to
assess the safety risk for children. The law requires
the agency to require an extra tenfold safety margin
for children.

The activist groups said they would sue the EPA in
August if the agency failed to meet deadlines
imposed by Congress.

Some other panel members - including farm and
chemical industry groups, pediatricians, and
scientists - also have privately expressed doubts that
key issues can be resolved without going back to
Congress or the courts.

"To have these groups resign is not in the public's
best interest," said Jay Vroom, president of the
American Crop Protection Association, a trade group

representing pesticide makers. "Are they for sound
science that protects kids or political grandstanding
that grabs headlines?"

A top EPA official said he was disappointed that the
activist groups bowed out, but said the agency
remained committed to phasing out dangerous
pesticides.

"We, too, wish that this process could be faster,"
Peter Robertson, EPA acting deputy administrator,
said in a letter to the groups. "But we are on
schedule for assessing risks and taking
risk-reduction actions, beginning in August, as the
law prescribes."

(C) Reuters Limited 1999.