Pesticide tolerances

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluates each pesticide thoroughly to make sure it will not endanger the health of humans or the environment. Once a pesticide passes the EPA's tests and requirements, it is granted registration and can be marketed and used in the United States.

The EPA also sets a tolerance, which is the amount of pesticide residue allowed to stay in or on food. To set this tolerance level, the EPA considers the toxicity of the pesticide and its break-down products, how often and how much of the pesticide is applied, and how much of the pesticide remains in or on food at the stores or at the time of preparation. If residues are detected above the tolerance level, the government can take the product off the market.

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The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 requires the EPA to reassess all the pesticide tolerances that were in effect as of August 3, 1996. This act was created to guarantee that existing tolerances met the safety standards set by the EPA. Among the changes required by the FQPA is the consideration of aggregate exposure, which takes into account all possible routes of contact with pesticide residues, including in and around homes and landscapes, and other non-crop uses. Thus, even though the FQPA's name suggests it is directed at food crops, it actually affects all pesticide uses. Reassessment can result in no change, or in lowering or raising the tolerance. The reassessment of tolerances and exemptions is to be finished by 2006. As of last August, 3,662 of the 9,721 pesticides have been reassessed.

The law requires the EPA to give highest priority to pesticides that seem to pose the greatest risk. All pesticides are placed into one of three priority groups, Priority Group 1 consisting of those that pose the greatest risks. In meeting the first scheduled deadline of reassessing one-third of tolerances by August 1999, two-thirds of that amount had to come from Priority Group 1, which represents 2,380 tolerances.

The four major classes comprising Priority Group 1 are organophosphates, carbamates, organochlorines and carcinogens. Organophosphates make up 17.4 percent of all tolerances subject to reassessment and 31.3 percent of them have already been reassessed.

Source: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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