Delays and Unresolved Issues Plague New Pesticide Protection Programs

CED-80-32: Published: Feb 15, 1980. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 1980.

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GAO reviewed three of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new major programs to protect the public from hazardous pesticides. These programs were: (1) registration standards, (2) rebuttable presumption against registration (RPAR), and (3) laboratory inspection.

Registration standards, the most recent and ambitious program, is designed to reassess the safety of the 35,000 pesticide products the government has registered over the past 30 years. A costly and comprehensive effort, it could last 15 years. The slowly progressing program has many basic policy and procedural issues which have not been resolved by EPA. While the program will be the primary means for EPA to reassess the safety of each of the 6,000 pesticide tolerances approved by the government during the past 30 years, EPA has not yet determined how it will perform these reassessments. Further, EPA has not yet completed the promised comprehensive review of its overall tolerance-setting procedures. The RPAR program concentrates on evaluating the risks and benefits of pesticides suspected of causing serious health or environmental problems. Since its 1975 inception, the program has led to the cancellation of some or all uses of about 20 dangerous pesticides. However, the program is progressing too slowly, and the public may be exposed to hazardous pesticides longer than necessary. In 1977, EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began inspecting private labs performing federally required safety tests on pesticides, food additives, and drugs. The agencies determine whether labs follow acceptable procedures so that test results are accurate and reliable. While the inspection program is a positive step toward improving the quality of pesticide safety testing, more authority is needed for effective program administration.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should: (1) establish written operating procedures for all phases of registration standards development; (2) rank the 514 registration standards pesticides in order of their potential risk; (3) promptly finalize the proposed reregistration guidelines; (4) identify key health and safety tests required by EPA regulation, require registrants to submit missing tests, and cancel registrations of firms not complying; (5) require each registrant to submit a list of all health and safety tests for each pesticide and have EPA review the lists to identify and request copies of those tests it needs to complete a standard; (6) publish a Federal Register notice inviting public comment on pesticides undergoing standards development; (7) develop a tracking system to monitor a pesticide as it goes through the registration standards system and institute procedures to identify and alleviate obstacles impeding progress; (8) have an independent office monitor the overall EPA progress in reregistering pesticides and reexamining tolerances; (9) review the Science Advisory Board's recommendations and implement the accepted ones; (10) reevaluate the issues and procedures not reevaluated by the Board; (11) issue and require EPA to follow a formal RPAR operating manual; (12) decide if pending referrals should be accepted or rejected and implement procedures to evaluate future referrals quickly; and (13) require registrants to submit nondietary exposure test data.

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