Nonagricultural Pesticides:

Risks and Regulation

RCED-86-97: Published: Apr 18, 1986. Publicly Released: May 19, 1986.

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In response to congressional requests, GAO reported on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to determine the: (1) risks associated with the use of nonagricultural pesticides; (2) extent of public information concerning such risks; and (3) requirements for professional pesticide applicators to protect the public from misuse.

The chronic health risks associated with nonagricultural pesticides are uncertain because EPA has not reassessed them in accordance with current standards. GAO found that EPA: (1) as of September 30, 1985, had done preliminary assessments on 18 of the 50 chemicals and found that, for 17, it did not have enough chronic toxicity data to complete the assessments; and (2) does not plan to require chronic toxicity testing of all nonagricultural chemicals because it believes that exposure to some pesticides is not significant enough to cause chronic effects in humans, regardless of toxicity. Environmental groups believe that pesticide labels should state that chronic health risks have not been fully assessed, so that the public can make better choices about pesticide use. However, industry representatives oppose public disclosure because they fear adverse economic effects. The Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act authorizes EPA to take enforcement action against pesticide manufacturers' claims that pesticides are safe, but EPA has taken few such actions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), under its authorizing legislation, can act against distributor and applicator claims, but FTC believes that EPA is better able to handle such claims, because of its expertise and specific legislative authority.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Because it may be several decades before EPA assesses the chronic health risks of nonagricultural pesticides, Congress may wish to consider whether pesticide labels should state that EPA has not assessed the pesticides' chronic health risks in accordance with current standards.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation. This point was repeated in the GAO transition report and is still a valid issue. A congressional hearing on March 28, 1990, dealt with the issue, but no action was taken. No further consideration is contemplated.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider whether the: (1) public should be notified when public places are treated with pesticides; and (2) federal government should have a role in ensuring that the public is notified.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Legislation addressing this issue is unlikely to be considered by Congress any time in the near future.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should: (1) encourage states that do not have unrestricted pesticide applicator control programs to institute such programs; and (2) develop a model pesticide applicator control program for voluntary use by the states.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA stated it will continue to encourage states to implement training and other programs to upgrade the competency of all pesticide users. EPA does not plan to develop a model pesticide applicator control program for use by states.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should seek an arrangement between EPA and FTC for controlling unacceptable safety claims by professional pesticide applicators. If additional resources are needed, Congress should be so informed.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This issue was dealt with in a followup report, RCED-90-134, recommending EPA seek legislative authority over pesticide applications. EPA responded on June 14, 1990, that it will determine the need for further action on this recommendation by the end of 1990, upon completion of a study to determine the scope of false advertising claims.

    Recommendation: If the Administrator, EPA, does not have the resources to act against unacceptable safety claims by pesticide distributors, he should inform Congress, so it can decide whether to authorize additional resources, or grant EPA relief from this enforcement responsibility.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This issue was dealt with in a followup report, RCED-90-134, recommending EPA develop an enforcement strategy that will make better use of its resources. EPA responded on June 14, 1990, that it is taking appropriate steps in this regard.

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