By Timothy D. Backstrom
On January 9, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) announced the launch of a new website created in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that provides information about actions the federal government is taking to oversee the development of agricultural biotechnology products. This “one-stop-shop” website was created under the direction of Executive Order (EO) “Modernizing the Regulatory Framework for Agricultural Biotechnology Products.”
EPA regulates biotechnology-based pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and residues from such pesticides under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). EPA also regulates under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) certain new microorganisms that are not subject to regulation under other statutes. USDA regulates certain new biotechnology products under the Plant Protection Act (PPA), including agricultural crops that have been modified to be resistant to conventional pesticides. FDA regulates the safety of human and animal foods produced using biotechnology, including genetically modified agricultural crops and animals, and the safety of drugs and human biologics produced with biotechnology, under the FFDCA.
The website, The Unified Website for Biotechnology Regulation, describes the federal review process for biotechnology products, outline’s each agency’s role in regulating biotechnology products, and allows users to submit questions to the three agencies. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler states that the new website “will help provide regulatory certainty and clarity to our nation’s farmers and producers by bringing together information on the full suite of actions the Trump Administration is taking to safely reduce unnecessary regulations and break down barriers for these biotechnology products in the marketplace.”
In recent years, a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) have raised concerns regarding the risks from products that have been genetically modified using biotechnology, including agricultural crops that have been genetically modified to improve pesticide or disease resistance, and agricultural animals that have been genetically modified to enhance food production. In some instances, farmers have also expressed concern that crops with novel traits may exchange genetic information with other plant strains or species. Implicit in all of this criticism is a presumption that the agencies with regulatory jurisdiction over these novel organisms have not adequately prevented or mitigated the risks associated with biotechnology.
In contrast, proponents of biotechnology have complained that regulatory requirements imposed by the responsible agencies have stifled useful innovation and have requested relief from regulatory requirements that they contend have impeded or slowed introduction of new products of agricultural biotechnology. The Executive Order that underlies the new website seeks to streamline the administrative process for introducing novel agricultural products without increasing potential risks of biotechnology.
Additional information on how EPA regulates biotechnology products is available here.
By Timothy D. Backstrom and James V. Aidala
On December 18, 2019, the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued for comment a Proposed Interim Decision (PID) in the ongoing registration review process for each of the three registered triazine herbicides: atrazine, propazine, and simazine. EPA will allow 60 days for comment on each of these triazine PIDs, but the specific comment deadline will only be established after EPA has published notice concerning the proposed interim decisions in the Federal Register. EPA can utilize an “interim registration review decision” under 40 C.F.R. Section 155.56 whenever it is not yet ready to complete the registration review process, but EPA has nonetheless completed sufficient review to determine that new or interim risk mitigation measures are needed or that additional data or information should be submitted to complete the review. For each of the three triazine herbicides, EPA is proposing to impose specific risk mitigation measures for particular registered uses to mitigate potential health and environmental risks. For each triazine herbicide, EPA is not yet ready to make a final registration review decision because EPA has not made findings in the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) or an effects determination under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Several key factors that will affect the final registration review decision for each of the triazine herbicides are discussed below.
Common Factors for Triazine Risk Assessment
There are several common factors to consider with regard to the triazines risk assessment. These include:
- Atrazine, propazine, and simazine are all included in the chlorotriazine chemical class. EPA has determined that these three herbicides, along with three specific chlorinated metabolites, share a common mechanism of toxicity, so human health risks from all of these substances are being assessed by EPA together through one cumulative triazine risk assessment. The contribution of each product to aggregate human risk differs because of somewhat dissimilar use patterns. The combining of risks resulting from use of each triazine means, however, that it may be necessary for EPA to coordinate the ultimate registration review decisions for the three active ingredients.
- As part of the ecological risk assessment for each triazine herbicide, EPA plans to make an effects determination for potentially vulnerable species under the ESA, which in turn will determine whether it is necessary for EPA to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) concerning potential impacts of each active ingredient and relevant metabolites on endangered or threatened species. Atrazine, propazine, and simazine are all included in a stipulated settlement between the parties in Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. EPA et al. No. 3:11 cv 0293 (N.D. Cal.), and EPA agreed in that stipulated settlement to set August 14, 2021, as the deadline for EPA to make a nationwide effects determination for each active ingredient, and to request any required consultation with the Services, under ESA Section 7(a)(2).
- EPA states that the predominant human health effect of concern for all three of the triazine herbicides and their chlorinated metabolites is potential suppression of the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, which is considered to be both a neuroendocrine and a developmental effect. Atrazine and simazine were both included on List 1 for screening testing under the EDSP required by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) amendments. All of the required Tier 1 screening assays for each of these substances are complete and have been evaluated by EPA, but EPA has not yet made human health or environmental findings under the EDSP. The EDSP screening testing has not been completed yet for propazine.
Risk Mitigation Measures
Each PID proposes specific risk mitigation measures intended to address potential human and environmental risks identified by the EPA risk assessments.
For atrazine, the PID includes the following measures to mitigate aggregate human risk:
- Reduce the permissible application rates for use of granular and liquid formulations on residential turf.
- Require additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and engineering controls for certain uses.
- Restrict aerial applications to liquid formulations only.
- Limit backpack sprayer applications to landscape turf to spot treatment only.
- Prohibit pressurized handgun application to certain commodities.
To mitigate ecological risks, the atrazine PID proposes to require various spray drift reduction measures, to add a non-target advisory statement to labeling, and to adopt a nationwide stewardship program.
For propazine, the PID proposes to cancel the greenhouse use to mitigate aggregate human risk. Ecological risks would be mitigated by proposing to require various spray drift reduction measures and by adding a non-target advisory statement to labeling.
For simazine, the PID includes the following measures to mitigate aggregate human risk:
- Cancel simazine use on residential turf.
- Require additional PPE and engineering controls for certain uses.
- Limit pressurized handgun applications to certain commodities to spot treatment only.
Ecological risks would be mitigated by proposing to require various spray drift reduction measures and by adding a non-target advisory statement to labeling.
In each of the PIDs for the triazine herbicides, EPA has focused its efforts on adopting mitigation measures which should be efficacious in reducing human and ecological risks without materially impairing the availability of the products in question for key agricultural uses. In some instances, the PID documents explicitly state that the product registrants have agreed to proposed changes. An EPA Pesticide Program Update dated December 19, 2019, that discusses the interim decision for atrazine includes statements of support from several grower groups.
By Lisa R. Burchi and Kelly N. Garson
EPA recently released the Consent Agreement and Final Order (CAFO) for the October 31, 2019, settlement discussed in our blog post “EPA Settles Two Cases Regarding Unregistered and Misbranded Pesticides.” This October 31, 2019, settlement between U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 3 and AFCO C&S, LLC (AFCO), a chemical company located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to resolve alleged violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Pursuant to the CAFO, AFCO agreed to pay a $1,489,000 penalty to settle the alleged violations that involved the use of 12 products to clean and sanitize food and beverage processing facilities.
The CAFO provides more information on the violations Region 3 alleged. The CAFO allegations state that AFCO sold and distributed 10unregistered pesticide products on at least 1,031 separate occasions in violation of FIFRA Section 12(a)(1)(A). The CAFO also alleges that AFCO sold and distributed a product that made claims beyond those permitted by its FIFRA registration on at least five separate occasions. It additionally alleges that AFCO sold or distributed a misbranded pesticide on 41 separate occasions.
EPA initially collected the information during an inspection of AFCO’s establishment in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on June 20, 2016. The settlement also addresses violations of a Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order (SSURO) that EPA issued to AFCO on July 13, 2018, requiring AFCO to immediately cease all sales and distributions of the 12 products. The CAFO alleges that AFCO engaged in sales and distributions that violated this order, having sold or distributed the products from at least January 1, 2015, through either August 8 or August 9, 2019. AFCO has since discontinued sales of all of the involved products, except for one registered product, for which EPA issued an Order Modification letter on March 4, 2019, allowing AFCO to recommence sales.
AFCO will pay the civil penalty within one year in 12 equal monthly installments, plus interest payment of $7,954.96, totaling $1,496,954.96.
By Lara A. Hall, MS, RQAP-GLP and Barbara A. Christianson
On December 17, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will host its first annual conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss alternative test methods and strategies to reduce animal testing. EPA states that its conference “will bring together some of the leading voices in environmental and health research to discuss efforts to reduce testing on mammals.” The conference will focus on the New Approach Methods (NAM), which include “any technologies, methodologies, approaches or combinations thereof that can be used to provide information on chemical hazard and potential human exposure that can avoid or significantly reduce the use of testing on animals,” and will have U.S. and international scientific experts present information on advancements in the field. On-site participants attending the conference will have an opportunity to exchange information about scientific advancements in the NAMs field to develop a better understanding of the state of the science, discuss approaches for developing scientific confidence in using alternatives, and summarize existing studies characterizing the uncertainties in results from animal testing.
This conference is part of Administrator Wheeler’s “Directive to Prioritize Efforts to Reduce Animal Testing,” issued on September 10, 2019, which outlines EPA’s pursuit to aggressively reduce animal testing. In his directive, Administrator Wheeler calls for EPA to reduce its requests for, and funding of, mammalian studies by 30 percent by 2025 and eliminate all mammalian study requests and funding by 2035. Any mammalian studies requested or funded by EPA after 2035 will require Administrator approval on a case-by-case basis. The directive also supports scientific advancements that allow scientists to predict potential hazards for risk assessments without using traditional animal testing methods.
Information on how to register to participate in the conference by webinar is available here.
By Timothy D. Backstrom
On December 5, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) announced the availability of a revised interim registration review decision for use of sodium cyanide in the M-44 predator control device. The M-44 device is a restricted use pesticide (RUP) and may be used only by certified applicators in compliance with specific mandatory restrictions set forth on the label. Although the registration review process for sodium cyanide remains pending, EPA has decided to issue an interim decision for the M-44 device now to adopt new label restrictions intended to mitigate potential risks. The revised interim decision adopts two new restrictions and also modifies certain existing restrictions, which EPA states "will reduce the potential for unintended impacts on humans, pets, and other non-target animals.”
The M-44 predator control device uses a spring-loaded ejector to fire a capsule containing a single lethal capsule of sodium cyanide. The M-44 is used by livestock producers to control predators (primarily coyotes) that kill sheep, goats, and cattle. Registrations for the M-44 device are currently held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and by five individual States (South Dakota, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico) where livestock predation has been a particular problem.
New or revised restrictions that will be incorporated in the approved labeling for the M-44 device include:
- Requiring a 600-foot buffer zone around residences where an M-44 cannot be used (except for a cooperating landowner who has given written permission).
- Requiring that the applicator notify occupants of all residences within a 0.5 mile radius (by face-to-face communication, person-to-person telephone communication, door hanger, or certified mail) prior to an M-44 placement.
- Increasing from 50 feet to 300 feet the distance from designated public paths and roads where M-44 use is prohibited.
- Requiring two elevated warning signs placed 15 feet from the M-44 device and facing the most likely directions of approach, instead of one elevated sign placed 25 feet from the device.
Livestock producers and State departments of agriculture contend that the M-44 device is essential to limit economic losses resulting from predation, which reportedly amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In contrast, wildlife advocates have strongly opposed any continued use of the M-44 device. In 2017, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned EPA to suspend and cancel all registrations for M-44 capsules, but EPA concluded that the petition did not contain substantial new information and denied the petition in 2018. Although the new and modified label restrictions adopted by EPA in the interim decision for the M-44 device are not likely to satisfy opponents, these changes should nonetheless reduce the likelihood that humans, pets, or other non-target species will be exposed to the M-44 capsules or the toxin they contain.
By Lisa R. Burchi and Kelly N. Garson
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently settled two cases involving allegations of non-compliance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Although the Consent Agreement and Final Orders (CAFO) and Stop Sale, Use or Removal Orders (SSURO) issued in these cases are not yet available online, the penalty amounts at issue -- $200,000 and $1,489,000 -- reflect increased enforcement in targeted areas and EPA’s willingness to seek and obtain heroic penalties.
On November 18, 2019, EPA Region 9 announced that Decon7 Systems LLC (Decon7) would pay a $200,000 civil penalty in a settlement related to FIFRA violations. Specifically, EPA found that Decon 7:
- Sold and distributed two products that were not registered with EPA. These products, “D7 Part 1” and “D7 Part 2,” combined to disinfect hard nonporous surfaces. EPA regulations (40 C.F.R. § 152.15) set forth the conditions under which EPA will consider a product to be a pesticide product required to be registered, including but not limited to products containing certain “active” ingredients and/or making claims to kill, repel, or “disinfect” certain pests (e.g., germs, bacteria, viruses).
- Sold and distributed pesticides that were labeled with false and misleading claims regarding safety and efficacy. In addition to misleading efficacy claims to kill all bacteria, viruses, and fungi, EPA states:
The products also had false and misleading safety claims, which created the incorrect impression that the products were noncorrosive and nontoxic. The products’ formulations in fact could have caused skin burns and irreversible eye damage. The products’ labeling also claimed the products were used by various federal government agencies to clean up buildings following anthrax attacks, implying that the federal government recommends or endorses their use.
- Exported unregistered pesticides that did not include necessary notifications and failed to comply with reporting obligations following a SSURO issued to the company in 2018.
On October 31, 2019, EPA Region 3 announced that it reached an agreement with AFCO C&S, LLC (AFCO), a chemical company located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to resolve alleged FIFRA violations. AFCO agreed to pay a $1,489,000 penalty to settle the alleged violations that involved the use of 12 products to clean and sanitize food and beverage processing facilities. EPA alleges that AFCO sold and distributed ten unregistered pesticide products, a misbranded product, and a product that made claims beyond those permitted by its FIFRA registration.
The settlement also addresses violations of a SSURO that EPA issued to AFCO on July 13, 2018. AFCO engaged in sales and distributions that violated this order. AFCO has since discontinued sales of all of the involved products, except for one registered product.
By Jason E. Johnston
On October 15, 2019, EPA posted a total of 11 documents to the registration review docket for paraquat dichloride (EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0855). Of primary interest in the registration review process under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) are the draft human health and ecological risk assessments. Additional supporting documents posted to the docket include dietary, residential, and occupational exposure assessments; a review of analytical chemistry and residue data; a label use summary; a screening level usage analysis, results of a drinking water jar test; open literature and epidemiology literature reviews; and an incident report summary.
Paraquat is currently registered in the United States for use as an herbicide on over 100 crops in agricultural and commercial settings. All paraquat products are restricted use products and may be applied only by certified pesticide applicators. EPA has previously imposed additional restrictions and conditions to ensure the safe use of paraquat consistent with label directions. These actions include a safety awareness campaign, changes to labels and product packaging, and specialized training for certified applicators using paraquat. Evaluation of the effectiveness of these steps will be conducted in the registration review process.
Potential risks of concern to workers applying paraquat or entering treated fields are identified in the draft human health risk assessment, as are potential risks to bystanders from spray drift. Prior submissions to EPA suggest a link between proper use of paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease, but EPA’s review of relevant data does not support a causal relationship. This conclusion is not without controversy, as evidenced by an October 15, 2019, press release from the Center for Biological Diversity that calls out EPA’s failure to recognize a link between paraquat exposures and Parkinson’s Disease. The ecological risk assessment identifies potential risks to mammals, birds, adult honey bees, terrestrial plants, and algae. EPA is seeking comments on these and other issues raised in the draft risk assessments for paraquat. Comments will be accepted on these documents until December 16, 2019.
By Susan M. Kirsch and Barbara A. Christianson
On October 24, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is proposing narrow updates to the Worker Protection Standard’s (WPS) provision on the Application Exclusion Zone (AEZ) requirements. By narrowing updates to the WPS, EPA states that it will “improve the long-term success of the agency’s Application Exclusion Zone requirements” and “would improve enforceability for state regulators and reduce regulatory burdens for farmers.” EPA believes narrowing updates to the WPS will also continue to protect the health of farm workers and other individuals near agricultural establishments who could be exposed to agricultural pesticide applications. The proposed updates are consistent with the 2019 Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA).
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler states that EPA’s proposal “would enhance the agency’s Application Exclusion Zone provisions by making them more effective and easier to implement.” Wheeler states that “our proposal will make targeted updates, maintaining safety requirements to protect the health of those in farm country, while providing greater flexibility for farmers.”
EPA will hold a 90-day public comment period and seeks input on select updates that were publicly suggested to EPA by both state pesticide agencies responsible for enforcing the provision and agricultural stakeholders since the AEZ requirement was adopted in 2015. The proposed updates are also consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s comments during a May 2017 meeting of EPA’s Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee.
Specifically, EPA is proposing to:
- Modify the AEZ so it is applicable and enforceable only on a farm owner’s property, where a farm owner can lawfully exercise control over employees and bystanders who could fall within the AEZ. As currently written, the off-farm aspect of this provision has proven very difficult for state regulators to enforce. These proposed changes would enhance both enforcement and implementation of the AEZ for state regulators and farm owners, respectively. Off-farm bystanders would still be protected from pesticide applications with the existing “do not contact” requirement that prohibits use in a manner that would contact unprotected individuals.
- Exempt immediate family members of farm owners from all aspects of the AEZ requirement. This will allow farm owners and their immediate family members to decide whether to stay in their homes or other enclosed structures on their property during certain pesticide applications, rather than compelling them to leave even when they feel safe remaining.
- Add clarifying language that pesticide applications that are suspended due to individuals entering an AEZ may be resumed after those individuals have left the AEZ.
- Simplify the criteria for deciding whether pesticide applications are subject to the 25- or 100-foot AEZ.
Publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register will begin a 90-day comment period. Comments are due on or before January 30, 2020.
When EPA included the AEZ concept in its 2015 WPS updates, of chief concern for pesticide applicators, farmers, and state departments of agriculture were the compliance and enforcement practicalities of aspects of the AEZ requirements. For example, in scenarios where the AEZ extends to nearby roads and highways, it is difficult for pesticide applicators to be aware of every vehicle that may pass by that could enter the AEZ during applications. It is unclear if the revised AEZ requirements adequately address these practical realities. Agricultural stakeholders and pesticide applicators may wish to submit comments on the proposed revisions.
Additional information on the WPS is available on EPA's website.
By Heather F. Collins, M.S. and Barbara A. Christianson
On October 2, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of, and soliciting public comment on, the draft document entitled “Antimicrobial Performance Evaluation Program (APEP) A (Draft) Risk Based Strategy to Ensure the Effectiveness of Hospital-Level Disinfectants” (draft Strategy). EPA states that “The draft Strategy provides a framework to ensure that registered hospital-level disinfectants and tuberculocide products continue to meet Agency efficacy standards once they are in the marketplace.”
The draft Strategy was developed in response to EPA’s Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report “EPA Needs a Risk-Based Strategy to Assure Continued Effectiveness of Hospital-Level Disinfectants,” which recommends EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) to develop a risk-based strategy to assure the effectiveness of public health pesticides used in hospital settings once products are in the marketplace. EPA developed the draft Strategy based on OIG’s recommendations.
EPA states that the draft Strategy uses a risk-based approach “to inform the Agency on the prioritization and selection of hospital-level disinfectants and associated label claims for testing,” and states that its order of priority is as follows:
- Product label claims for specific microbes and disease prevalence data;
- Evaluation of uncommon label claims and unique product application processes; and
- Evaluation of products tested using new and/or recently revised methods.
Additional refinement factors may also be considered such as:
- Issues identified during post-registration, product reregistration, and registration review;
- Trends observed under the previous testing program (Antimicrobial Testing Program (ATP)); and
- Products with high production volumes.
EPA states that it will be considering two options individually or in combination for obtaining samples for testing: (1) EPA purchase of products in the marketplace; and (2) product samples provided by the registrant. Several options for allocating efficacy and chemistry testing resources may be utilized individually or in combination; these options include: (1) Office of Pesticide Programs Microbiology Laboratory and the Analytical Chemistry Laboratory; (2) interagency agreements and contracts; (3) third-party verification testing; and (4) registrant testing; and/or Data Call-Ins.
In the Federal Register notice, EPA lists six focus questions on which it is specifically requesting public comment:
- Please comment on the proposed risk factors and refinements, their proposed prioritization, their strengths and limitations, and recommendations for other risk factors not considered.
- Are the options provided for sample collection suitable for the purpose of the testing program, and if not, what approaches would you suggest to optimize sample collection. Please provide advantages and disadvantages to your recommendations as appropriate.
- Should the Agency and/or stakeholders conduct the laboratory evaluation (formulation chemistry and product efficacy) of disinfectant products? Provide examples to support your opinions and itemize situations where one approach would be more favorable versus the other.
- Please comment on the flexibility and feasibility of the example workplan approach (See Appendix A, draft Strategy).
- Please comment on the proposed communication strategy to convey test results to registrants and the general public including the preferred frequency of updates.
- Please provide suggested routes for resolution of efficacy failures. Previously, these were addressed by “regulatory fixes” to include retesting, label amendments, etc.
EPA states that the draft Strategy may be of interest to health care/hospital professionals and all entities who have EPA registered antimicrobial products that are available in the marketplace, particularly those with products that make hospital disinfectant claims (e.g., claims against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa) and other claims for notable public health pests (e.g., Clostridium difficile, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Mycobacterium spp.).
All comments on the draft Strategy document must be received by EPA on or before December 2, 2019. EPA expects to publish the APEP final strategy in 2020 and schedule implementation to begin in 2022.
Documents referenced in the draft Strategy are available at www.regulations.gov in Docket Number EPA-HQ-OPP-2018-0265. More information on the APEP is available on our blog.
By Heather F. Collins, M.S. and Barbara A. Christianson
On October 1, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Federal Register notice announcing the that fees under the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2018 (PRIA 4) were increased by five percent for pesticide applications received on or after October 1, 2019. The five percent increase is on fee amounts established by Public Law 116-8, which became effective on March 8, 2019. The revised fees will remain in effect until September 30, 2021.
The fee schedule provided in PRIA 4 identifies the registration service fees and decision times organized according to the organizational units of the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) within EPA. EPA presents the schedules as 19 tables, organized by OPP Division and by type of application or pesticide subject to the fee, and lists the registration service fee for actions received in fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Applicants must submit fee payments at the time of application. EPA will reject any application that does not contain evidence that the PRIA 4 fee has been paid.
The revised fee schedule for PRIA 4 fiscal years 2020 and 2021 is available on EPA’s website. More information on the PRIA 4 legislation is available on our blog under key word PRIA.