Pesticides:

Reducing Exposure to Residues of Canceled Pesticides

RCED-95-23: Published: Dec 28, 1994. Publicly Released: Dec 28, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) whether marketed foods contain unsafe levels of residues from cancelled pesticides; and (2) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) procedures for revoking tolerances for cancelled food-use pesticides.

GAO found that: (1) EPA believes that most marketed foods do not contain unsafe levels of residues from cancelled pesticides, since most pesticides do not persist in the environment for very long; (2) residues from a particular class of cancelled pesticides do persist, particularly in fish, and pose a health risk to some consumers over their lifetimes; (3) in 1991, EPA proposed lower action levels for five cancelled pesticides in fish to reflect the decline in actual residue levels; (4) the reduced action levels have not been implemented because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that EPA has not fully demonstrated the need for lower action levels; (5) many state monitoring programs would be affected by lower action levels, since they use federal standards in issuing fish consumption advisories; (6) EPA has taken over 6 years to revoke tolerances for cancelled pesticides; (7) the process for revoking tolerances takes too long and makes inefficient use of scare resources; (8) linking residue revocations to pesticide cancellations would be more efficient and would reduce consumers' exposure to pesticide residues in imported food; and (9) although EPA has made progress in revoking tolerances for cancelled pesticides, its revocation backlog is expected to increase because of additional pesticide registration cancellations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Recently enacted legislation appears to partially supersede this recommendation. The Food Quality Protection Act, enacted on August 8, 1996, imposes new requirements on EPA and authorizes it to establish tolerances for residues of cancelled, persistent pesticides. The law also establishes new health standards for tolerances. EPA is examining the implications of the legislation for contaminants in fish in interstate commerce. However, because the federal government's responsibilities are limited to fish in interstate commerce EPA issued guidance in June 1996 for local governments to develop local fish consumption advisories. The guidance explained that, while action levels for pesticide residues ensure a safe food supply for consumers of commercial fish, they may be inappropriate for consumers of locally caught fish. EPA advised local governments that they need to assess risks associated with consumption of local, noncommercial fish, and when appropriate, develop local fish consumption advisories.

    Recommendation: To protect consumers from unreasonable exposure to the residues of cancelled pesticides, the Administrator, EPA, and the Commissioner, FDA, should work together to determine, on the basis of the most recent data, the appropriate action levels for residues of the five cancelled chlorinated pesticides in fish.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Recently enacted legislation appears to partially supersede this recommendation. The Food Quality Protection Act, enacted on August 8, 1996, imposes new requirements on EPA and authorizes it to establish tolerances for residues of cancelled, persistent pesticides. The law also establishes new health standards for tolerances. EPA is examining the implications of the legislation for contaminants in fish in interstate commerce. However, because the federal government's responsibilities are limited to fish in interstate commerce EPA issued guidance in June 1996 for local governments to develop local fish consumption advisories. The guidance explained that, while action levels for pesticide residues ensure a safe food supply for consumers of commercial fish, they may be inappropriate for consumers of locally caught fish. EPA advised local governments that they need to assess risks associated with consumption of local, noncommercial fish, and when appropriate, develop local fish consumption advisories.

    Recommendation: To protect consumers from unreasonable exposure to the residues of cancelled pesticides, the Administrator, EPA, and the Commissioner, FDA, should work together to determine, on the basis of the most recent data, the appropriate action levels for residues of the five cancelled chlorinated pesticides in fish.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Recently enacted legislation appears to partially supersede this recommendation. The Food Quality Protection Act, enacted on August 8, 1996, imposes new requirements on EPA and authorizes it to establish tolerances for residues of cancelled, persistent pesticides. The law also establishes new health standards for tolerances. EPA is examining the implications of the legislation for contaminants in fish in interstate commerce. However, because the federal government's responsibilities are limited to fish in interstate commerce EPA issued guidance in June 1996 for local governments to develop local fish consumption advisories. The guidance explained that, while action levels for pesticide residues ensure a safe food supply for consumers of commercial fish, they may be inappropriate for consumers of locally caught fish. EPA advised local governments that they need to assess risks associated with consumption of local, noncommercial fish, and when appropriate, develop local fish consumption advisories.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should periodically reevaluate and lower action level recommendations to reflect decreases in environmental residue levels.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has established Standard Operating Procedures, dated January 18, 1996, for revoking tolerances for uses of pesticides that are unsupported in reregistration.

    Recommendation: To expedite the revocation of tolerances for cancelled pesticides and make more efficient use of scarce resources, the Administrator, EPA, should establish procedures for concurrently conducting tolerance revocation and cancellation actions and, when necessary, set an effective date for revocation that gives growers enough time to use existing stocks of the cancelled pesticide.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has identified a total of 33 pesticide active ingredients for which all food uses have been cancelled, and has established a schedule for revoking their tolerances.

    Recommendation: To expedite the revocation of tolerances for cancelled pesticides and make more efficient use of scarce resources, the Administrator, EPA, should identify the pesticides whose registrations for food uses have already been cancelled and revoke their tolerances.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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