Children and Pesticides:

New Approach to Considering Risk Is Partly in Place

HEHS-00-175: Published: Sep 11, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 11, 2000.

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William J. Scanlon
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to reduce children's exposure to pesticides by implementing the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), focusing on the: (1) approach EPA has developed for making decisions about applying the new safety factor; (2) progress that has been made in considering aggregate exposure and cumulative effects; and (3) progress that has been made in reassessing tolerances for pesticide residues.

GAO noted that: (1) when FQPA became law in 1996, EPA immediately began efforts to consider the additional safety factors for children, using available methods and data in an interim approach that has evolved over time; (2) an internal committee now recommends whether to apply the additional safety factor in pesticide reviews, based on data completeness and evidence of increased susceptibility in children; (3) using this approach, EPA has made decisions about applying the additional safety factor for 105 of the more than 450 pesticides to be reassessed; (4) it determined that an additional safety factor was necessary in 49 cases and not necessary in the remaining 56 cases; (5) EPA also had interim procedures in place for considering aggregate exposure, which incorporate available data on exposures from food, drinking water, and residential uses; (6) data on nonfood exposures have been lacking for most pesticides, however, and methods for estimating and combining such exposures are still being developed; (7) EPA has not yet begun to consider cumulative effects in the regulatory process; (8) it has determined that one group of pesticides that is considered to be high-risk, called the organophosphates, will need to be assessed for cumulative effect, but methods for doing so are still under development; (9) potential effects of considering aggregate exposure and cumulative effects are beginning to emerge; (10) on June 8, 2000, after applying the additional safety factor and conducting an aggregate exposure assessment for chlorpyrifos, EPA announced a need to substantially reduce children's exposure to this pesticide by reducing its use on foods frequently eaten by children and by eliminating nearly all household uses; (11) EPA has reported progress in reassessing existing tolerances for pesticide residues on foods, but relatively few of these allowable limits have changed as a result of considering FQPA's new requirements; (12) FQPA called for reassessing one-third of all existing tolerances by August 1999--a goal EPA met; (13) GAO analyzed a larger group, those counted as reassessed through April 2000; (14) for about 47 percent of these tolerances, the manufacturer agreed with EPA to eliminate the tolerances and withdraw the pesticides from those uses, before the additional safety factor or aggregate exposures were considered; (15) in most of these cases the pesticide was no longer being used on a particular food crop or the manufacturer decided not to maintain the ability to use it on a particular food crop; (16) most of the remaining reassessments in the group GAO analyzed resulted in no change; and (17) in reassessing tolerances, EPA has given priority to high-risk chemicals.

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