Lawn Care Pesticides:

Risks Remain Uncertain While Prohibited Safety Claims Continue

RCED-90-134: Published: Mar 23, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 1990.

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Richard L. Hembra
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the information that manufacturers, distributors, and professional applicators of lawn-care pesticides provided to the public about product safety; (2) federal enforcement actions taken against unacceptable advertising claims; and (3) the reregistration status of 34 widely used lawn-care pesticides.

GAO found that: (1) the lawn-care pesticides industry made prohibited product safety claims that differed substantially from claims the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed as part of product registration; (2) EPA cited limited resources and its focus on product misuse as reasons for assigning a lower enforcement priority to such false and misleading claims; (3) EPA lacked an effective program for monitoring pesticide manufacturers' and distributors' compliance with registration requirements; (4) although the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had authority to act against false and misleading safety advertising, it preferred to defer to EPA in such matters because of EPA expertise and legislative authority; (5) FTC believed that EPA was informally handling professional applicators' safety advertising, although EPA lacked authority to do so; (6) EPA remained at a preliminary stage in reassessing the risks of lawn-care pesticides under its registration program; and (7) EPA had not completely reassessed any of the 32 older lawn-care pesticides that were subject to reregistration.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At a May 1991 Senate hearing, EPA testified on its progress in regulating pesticide use. The agency stated that, in April 1990, it had established a formal national care referral process with FTC and subsequently has referred six cases to FTC for enforcement action.

    Recommendation: Because EPA does not have authority over pesticide applicator claims, and since FTC, which has this authority, prefers to defer to EPA because of its technical expertise, the Administrator, EPA, should seek, in cooperation with appropriate congressional committees, legislative authority over safety claims by professional pesticide applicators.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA's 1990 pilot initiative has led to an expanded lawn pesticide effort involving national monitoring and enforcement activities. This effort required states in the EPA pesticide enforcement program to conduct inspection of lawn service practices. Enforcement action is being taken as needed.

    Recommendation: In order to protect the public from prohibited pesticide safety claims, the Administrator, EPA, should develop an enforcement strategy for monitoring lawn pesticide industry compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), section 12(a)(1)(B), that will make better use of EPA resources.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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