FQPA: Nail-biting time draws near

This year could bring the first stages of closure to a pesticide-regulation controversy that's been brewing for more than 2 years. However, as welcome as that closure would be for many turf-and-ornamental professionals, green-industry leaders warn that the process must not proceed too quickly.

At issue is the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). Passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law in the summer of 1996, politicians hailed FQPA as a way to use solid science and health-based regulatory standards to ensure that pesticide use does not threaten human health.

So far, however, FQPA has been unable to live up to these lofty expectations because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to completely work out details of how to implement the law as a workable, fair regulatory process. Now, with those details due to begin taking shape during the next few months, the green industry is having mixed reactions to the FQPA timetable. "On one hand, there has been a lot of frustration over the amount of time it's taking EPA to sort out how to regulate pesticides under FQPA," explains Allen James, executive director of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), an industry trade association. "At the same time, however, we want the EPA to use hard data and real-world information as the basis for its pesticide risk assessments, not assumptions and theoretical models. One of the key components of FQPA is its directive that EPA should base its regulations on sound science. The EPA must give itself enough time to let that happen. A rush to judgment by the EPA would seriously undermine the original intent of the law."

If the EPA sticks to its current FQPA-implementation schedule, turf-and-ornamental products will figure prominently in the initial wave of regulation spawned by FQPA. The agency currently is evaluating organophosphate (OP) and carbamate insecticides as the first pesticides subjected to the reregistration process under the provisions of FQPA. The EPA should announce findings this August. Included in this ongoing review are some of the most widely used turf-and-ornamental products-insecticides such as chlorpyrifos (Dursban), diazinon, acephate (Orthene) and carbaryl (Sevin).

With the future of staple products such as these on the line, science-based deliberation is critical. But developing and analyzing scientific data is time-consuming, and the EPA's patience for making the necessary time investment may be running out. To meet its self-imposed timetables, the EPA has indicated it may calculate exposure to some insecticides by applying unrealistic worst-case scenarios or theoretical estimates of pesticide residues on food. The EPA can develop those kinds of numbers more quickly than manufacturers can gather actual exposure data, but they exaggerate hypothetical risk, making it seem much greater than it actually is.

The green industry has assembled a group-the Outdoor Residential Exposure Task Force (ORETF)-to provide to the EPA exposure data on pesticides used in lawn and landscape areas. The group has already begun the job of generating data the agency needs to base its risk assessments on actual human-exposure levels. Questions remain, however, about whether the EPA will allow enough time for industry to accurately collect, compile and compute the data in the risk-assessment process.

The reason for the turf-and-ornamental industry's concern over how the EPA administers FQPA is clear. James observes, "It all comes down to the possibility that we could lose some important plant-protection tools." FQPA calls on the EPA to use current, sound science to assess the potential health risks associated with the use of individual pesticide products and gives the agency increased authority to remove a pesticide from the market if scientific data cannot validate that it is safe. While the primary focus of FQPA is to eliminate potential health risks that may result from the public's dietary exposure to pesticides used on food crops, pesticide use in the green industry is part of the discussion as well. The risk-assessment process prescribed by FQPA requires the EPA to factor in potential human exposure from all uses of a product-including turf and landscape applications-to determine the so-called "aggregate risk" associated with a pesticide. For a pesticide to stay on the market, according to FQPA, scientific data must show with "reasonable certainty" that the product's aggregate risk results in "no harm" to human health.

How real is the possibility that FQPA could strip the green industry of pesticides? "It could happen in two ways," explains Tim Maniscalo, government and public affairs manager for Dow AgroSciences, which manufactures Dursban insecticide. "The first possibility comes from the fact that many major turf-and-ornamental products contain the same active ingredients as products used on food crops. If the EPA decides a product poses too great a dietary risk in its crop uses and discontinues those uses, the manufacturer may be forced to drop all its products with that active ingredient because sales in the non-agricultural markets alone are not high enough to cover registration and manufacturing costs."

Maniscalo continues, "The aggregate-risk requirement comes into play as well. If the EPA decides that the aggregate risk from an active ingredient is too high, the manufacturer may have to eliminate some of the compound's uses to get the hypothetical risk down to a level acceptable to the EPA. That could put manufacturers in the position of having to take a material out of T&O markets to enable continued registration in crop markets, where more of the product is used."

The turf-and-ornamental industry is not alone in its desire to keep science as the basis for regulation under FQPA. Vice President Al Gore, in response to initial industry concerns, instructed the EPA to work with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement FQPA. He also reiterated several points regarding how EPA should accomplish FQPA implementation: * Sound science. EPA should base decisions on the best science and data available, especially studies from peer- and public-reviewed literature. EPA also should use independent scientific-review panels whenever appropriate to establish the weight of scientific evidence. * Transparency. EPA should clearly and fully communicate all approaches and policies for review to affected groups and to the public. * Reasonable transition. All parties should have enough time and support to implement materials and strategies to replace pesticides affected by the reregistration process. * Consultation. EPA should consult all parties (user groups, manufacturers, growers, and environmental and public-health advocates) about implementation issues.

Taking the administration's direction to heart, the EPA and USDA last year created the Tolerance Reassessment Advisory Committee, commonly known as TRAC, to solicit scientific and public input from a variety of sources. TRAC meetings on OPs and carbamates have been taking place since July 1998 and have succeeded in keeping science and real-world experience at the forefront of the FQPA-implementation process. In addition, in FQPA hearings before Congress, the message that EPA must slow down and stick with sound science has been a consistent theme.

So where does this leave the turf-and-ornamental industry? Although the jury is still out on FQPA, recent words from Washington have been encouraging and have alleviated many of the initial concerns expressed by this industry. More mechanisms are now in place to ensure the use of sound science, transparency, a reasonable transition and active and frequent consultation.

At this time, what can turf-and-ornamental professionals do to protect their interests? James says, "We are still encouraging people in the industry to write letters to their congressional representatives and to EPA reiterating the importance of using sound science as the starting point for pesticide regulation under FQPA. That was clearly mandated in the original legislation, and if science gets lost in the implementation process, the law cannot fulfill its purpose."

Tim Maniscalo at Dow AgroSciences adds, "The industry is meeting its responsibility to participate in the process of making FQPA work. We're working with the EPA to ensure that the implementation of the FQPA leads to continuous improvement in health, safety and public confidence, without jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of people involved in the green industry, as well as agriculture and the overall food-production industry. All of us working together can make FQPA a workable solution as originally intended."

Technical credit: Dow AgroSciences

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