Lawn Care Pesticides:

Reregistration Falls Further Behind and Exposure Effects Are Uncertain

RCED-93-80: Published: Apr 6, 1993. Publicly Released: May 6, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) reregistration of major lawn care pesticides, focusing on: (1) EPA guidelines for health risk assessments; and (2) whether EPA classified any of the pesticides as carcinogens that could leach into the groundwater.

GAO found that: (1) studies on 18 major lawn care pesticides have been delayed up to 4 years; (2) EPA has reregistered some pesticides without waiting for study results; (3) EPA has evaluated 33 percent of the pesticides for their health or environmental risks; (4) EPA is considering suspending use of one pesticide due to study delays and its suspected cancer risk; (5) EPA has suspended use of another pesticide due to its high toxicity to birds and aquatic species, and is reviewing its suspected neurotoxicity to humans and its ability to leach into groundwater; (6) EPA does not have specific lawn use testing and assessment guidelines, but plans to have final guidelines by 1997; (7) EPA has identified some potential human health problems and environmental effects, including leaching, but the pesticides' toxic effects are uncertain; and (8) EPA identified four pesticides as potential carcinogens.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA is reviewing the health effects of lawn care pesticides by using methods that were developed to assess health effects of post-application exposure of pesticides to agricultural workers. There are limitations to this approach that require EPA to make some scientific assumptions. However, when EPA makes these assumptions in assessing risk, it makes a reasonable worst-case estimate. EPA states that current decisions on risk assessments for lawn care uses are cautious. As a result, EPA sees no need to delay reregistration decisions while new testing guidelines are developed. GAO believes that the current risk assessment is not sufficient because children playing on lawns sprayed with pesticides come in direct contact with the lawn. EPA should not reregister such pesticide uses without applying guidelines that evaluate the post-application exposure in residential settings. Otherwise, the public may have a false sense of security and safety about lawn care pesticides.

    Recommendation: Because of the uncertainty about the risks posed by lawn care pesticides, the Administrator, EPA, should fully explore the health effects of post-application exposure to lawn care pesticides in the agency's risk assessment process prior to reregistering pesticides for lawn uses.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA claims that it is placing a high priority on developing the guidelines. However, GAO questions this because, during the review, the guidelines were not scheduled to be completed until FY 1997 and, in EPA's response to the report, the target date was not changed.

    Recommendation: EPA should place a high priority on developing the post-application exposure testing and assessment guidelines.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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