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By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala

In September 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) plans to convene a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meeting to discuss New Approach Methodologies (NAM) for organophosphate (OP) pesticides.  EPA states that these NAMs could reduce reliance on default uncertainty factors for human health risk assessment and also reduce animal testing.

Under Administrator Wheeler’s directive to prioritize efforts to reduce animal testing, EPA is developing NAMs based on in vitro techniques and computational approaches that will also provide the opportunity to incorporate information relevant to humans.  OPP states that it is evaluating use of “in vitro data for 16 organophosphate compounds to reduce potentially reliance on default risk assessment uncertainty factors in favor of more refined data-derived factors.”  Human health risk assessment for OP pesticides has recently been focused primarily on potential developmental neurotoxicity, and the Office of Research and Development (ORD) has been working to develop a NAM to evaluate developmental neurotoxicity.  Initial analyses of data derived from neuron cell models have been completed for specific OP pesticides as a case study and, when possible, compared to in vivo results (an in vitro to in vivo extrapolation).

This case study of a NAM for developmental neurotoxicity using OP pesticides will be presented to the FIFRA SAP at the September meeting for its consideration and advice.  EPA will request external review and public comment on this research before implementing NAMs in human health risk assessments.  Additional details, including dates, times and agenda, will be forthcoming at www.epa.gov/sap.

Commentary

EPA has for some time had a general policy that it will try to develop and to implement alternatives to in vivo animal testing.  These alternatives to animal testing are typically based on new in vitro assays and modeling methodologies.  It is interesting that OPP has selected an in vitro NAM to assess developmental neurotoxicity of OP pesticides as a case study, given the controversy surrounding EPA’s use of the default Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) uncertainty factor for all OP pesticides, which was based primarily on epidemiology data that EPA claimed may suggest a link between chlorpyrifos exposure and developmental neurotoxicity.  Prior to this determination, human health risk assessment for OP pesticides was generally based on expert judgments by EPA that neurotoxicity would not be expected below the established threshold for acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition, and that infants and children are not likely to be more sensitive to neurotoxic effects than adults.  OPP adopted the FQPA determination for all OP pesticides even though it could not determine or propose a mechanism for the presumed developmental neurotoxicity of chlorpyrifos below the threshold for AChE inhibition, or evaluate whether other OP pesticides might share a similar mechanism.  Since the 2015 release of the Literature Review, additional epidemiology studies have become available and a number of concerns regarding the reliability of the epidemiology data have been raised.  EPA has also expressed concerns with the availability and reliability of the epidemiology studies.  These developments bring into question the accuracy and reliability of the Literature Review.

In its announcement, OPP states that the new NAM is intended “to reduce potentially reliance on default risk assessment uncertainty factors,” although it does not state which uncertainty factors may be supplanted or modified.  Standard uncertainty factors which may be implicated include the factor for extrapolating from animal data to human effects (“interspecies variation”), the factor for human variability (“intraspecies variation”), and the default uncertainty factor for potential increased sensitivity of infants and children (“FQPA uncertainty factor”).  The issues may spark additional controversy.  Additionally, even if OPP and the FIFRA SAP conclude that the proposed NAM for developmental neurotoxicity is a viable approach to human health risk assessment for OP pesticides, there are likely to be many related policy issues.  For example, it is unclear whether OPP would be sufficiently confident in the reliability of such an assay to propose cancellation or suspension of affected pesticide products based on a resultant human health risk assessment.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala

On February 6, 2020, Corteva Agriscience (Corteva), announced it will discontinue all production of the organophosphate (OP) insecticide chlorpyrifos by the end of the year.  Corteva and its corporate predecessor, Dow AgroSciences, have been the principal global manufacturers of chlorpyrifos.  Corteva announced that its decision to stop selling chlorpyrifos was based entirely on financial considerations.  This announcement came on the same day that Corteva had previously agreed it would end further sales of chlorpyrifos in California, and less than a week after the date the European Union (EU) ended all sales of chlorpyrifos in member states.  These actions followed a number of prior actions taken by other national and state governments to ban or severely restrict chlorpyrifos.  Corteva emphasized in its public statements that the science demonstrates that chlorpyrifos can be safely used, but that the company made a business decision based on the declining markets for the product.  In an interview reported by the Washington Post, Susanne Wasson, Corteva's President for Crop Protection said, “It’s a tough decision for us to make, but we don’t feel like it’s viable going forward.” In other statements, Corteva noted that in the last ten years their share of the global chlorpyrifos market had declined from 75% to less than 20%.

Chlorpyrifos has been registered for use in the U.S. for over 50 years, but has become increasingly controversial in the dozen years since the Pesticide Action Network of North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition in 2007 to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos.  Following a protracted court battle and a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take final administrative action concerning the 2007 petition, EPA proposed near the end of the Obama Administration to revoke all existing tolerances for chlorpyrifos.  A significant basis for this proposal was a controversial decision by a panel of EPA scientists that the default tenfold safety factor established by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) for infants and children, which EPA had previously waived based on studies establishing a threshold for acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition, should be reinstated.

The new EPA safety factor determination was based in large measure on epidemiology studies that reported an association between exposure to chlorpyrifos at levels below the presumed threshold for AChE inhibition and adverse neurodevelopmental effects in children.  Many industry scientists disputed the scientific basis for this EPA determination because confounding exposures and methodological biases in the epidemiology studies may have influenced the reported association with neurodevelopmental effects and because the EPA determination made unprecedented use of epidemiology data.  Beyond the effect on chlorpyrifos, the EPA decision will likely continue to be controversial because EPA included a similar safety factor determination for all OP pesticides, even though the mechanism responsible for the reported neurodevelopmental effects attributed to chlorpyrifos has not been identified and the other OP products were not studied in the epidemiology studies.

In the first year of the Trump Administration, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided not to adopt EPA’s previously proposed tolerance revocation and instead to deny formally the 2007 petition, citing unresolved scientific issues.  This reversal of course, however, was not accompanied by any new scientific assessment or by any explicit revision of the prior FQPA safety factor determination.  Later, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) decided to designate chlorpyrifos as a Toxic Air Contaminant, a decision that was noteworthy because it was based primarily on new toxicology studies that DPR stated reported neurodevelopmental effects well below the threshold for AChE inhibition.  DPR deemphasized the epidemiology data relied on in the EPA safety factor determination in its decision.  Although EPA later stated that it would address these new toxicology studies as part of an accelerated registration review process, there were intervening decisions by the EU and by California to ban new sales, which may have contributed to Corteva’s February 6, 2020, decision to cease chlorpyrifos production.

Commentary

The decision by Corteva to cease manufacturing chlorpyrifos reminds us that the decision to continue marketing any chemical substance cannot be based solely on the scientific data, but must also consider the regulatory climate and the economic viability of the product.  For those of us with a long memory, the decision by Corteva is reminiscent of the decision nearly 40 years ago by the Dow Chemical Company to pull the plug on 2,4,5-T and silvex, after Dow had expended millions of dollars and many years of effort to contest an emergency suspension and subsequent cancellation of these herbicides.  Dow made this decision even though it believed that the available data demonstrated the safety of those products.


 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

Commentary

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 M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala

On August 2, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) announced that it has decided to reduce the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) safety factor for infants and children for pyrethroids from its current value of 3X to a new value of 1X.  This decision is based on a July 1, 2019, OPP report entitled “USEPA Office of Pesticide Programs’ Re-evaluation of the FQPA Safety Factor for Pyrethroids: Updated Literature and CAPHRA Program Data Review.”  Risk assessments incorporating the new lower FQPA safety factor for pyrethroids will be utilized in developing proposed registration review decisions for these compounds, and EPA has stated it will be taking public comment on the OPP report reducing the FQPA safety factor for pyrethroids after EPA publishes a notice of availability for the proposed registration review decisions.

Pyrethroids are a group of insecticides that includes natural pyrethrins (found in chrysanthemums) and more than 30 synthetic compounds with similar structure and activity. EPA has determined that it is appropriate to establish one FQPA safety factor for all pyrethroid active ingredients because these compounds all have the same mode of action and similar patterns of toxicity.  Pyrethroid insecticides are widely used in and around residential structures, on pets, in treated clothing, for mosquito control, and in various agricultural applications.  EPA indicates that although pyrethroids have relatively low mammalian toxicity, EPA believes that the principal concern for human risk assessment is a potential to cause acute neurotoxic effects.

The FQPA safety factor is intended to account for “potential pre- and post-natal toxicity and completeness of data with respect to exposure and toxicity to infants and children.”  The FQPA safety factor is set by statute at a default value of 10X, but EPA may select a lower value for this safety factor if EPA determines based on “reliable data” that such a lower value will be safe for infants and children.  This determination necessarily depends on EPA’s assessment of the quality of the data that address the susceptibility to adverse effects of the pesticide of infants and children.  Based on current EPA guidance, OPP evaluates the need for the default FQPA safety factor of 10X in two components: a safety factor of about 3X assigned to pharmacodynamic (PD) differences and a safety factor of about 3X assigned to pharmacokinetic (PK) differences.  PD differences refer to the sequence of events at the molecular or cellular level leading to a toxic response to a substance, while PK differences refer to absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of the substance.

EPA previously evaluated the adequacy of the database concerning risks to infants and children posed by pyrethroid active ingredients in 2011.  At that time, EPA decided that there were sufficient data concerning the mechanism for potential neurotoxic effects of pyrethroids to allow EPA to reduce the factor for PD differences to 1X, but EPA retained the 3X factor for PK differences because EPA believed that the available pharmacokinetic data for pyrethroids was not sufficient for EPA to conclude that infants and children would not confront a greater risk of neurotoxic outcomes.  After EPA made the 2011 determinations, the Council for the Advancement of Pyrethroid Human Risk Assessment (CAPHRA) conducted a variety of additional research to address whether children are more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of pyrethroid exposure, and this research assessed both PD and PK differences.  CAPHRA submitted a peer-reviewed physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PbPk) model for pyrethroids to EPA in 2018.  After reviewing the new CAPHRA data and the current public literature for pyrethroids, EPA has now concluded that the factor for PD differences should be maintained at 1X, but the factor for PK differences should be reduced from 3X to 1X.  Collectively, these determinations mean that EPA has concluded that there are reliable data to support a determination that infants and children are not more susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of pyrethroids than adults, so there is no need to retain either the default FQPA safety factor of 10X or the previous FQPA safety factor used for pyrethroids of 3X.

Commentary

The adoption by EPA of a new FQPA safety factor of 1X for all pyrethroid active ingredients will likely facilitate retention of existing use patterns and use directions for a large number of pyrethroid insecticides that are commonly used in and around human residences and workplaces.

From a larger perspective, the process by which EPA evaluated and selected a proposed FQPA safety factor for pyrethroids may be seen as typical for most pesticides or classes of pesticides.  The selection of a FQPA safety factor for a particular pesticide usually is based on review of available animal data, including PD and PK data, to determine whether there is any basis for concluding that infants and children may be more susceptible to adverse effects of that pesticide than adults.  Where EPA decides that the animal data addressing this question are insufficient, affected registrants and other proponents of registration can consult with EPA concerning studies that will address the uncertainties.  Depending on the outcome of such studies, EPA may be able to conclude that there is a scientific basis for a partial or complete reduction of the default FQPA safety factor.

Compared to this typical evaluation process, the recent decision by EPA to retain the default FQPA safety factor for all organophosphate (OP) active ingredients, which was based on EPA’s interpretation of neurodevelopmental effects reported at low exposure levels (below the threshold for acetylcholinesterase inhibition) in epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos, may be seen as an aberration.  EPA’s decision to rely on epidemiology studies that may be susceptible to methodological biases, and the decision to utilize epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos to set the FQPA safety factors for all OP pesticides, have both been controversial.

EPA’s recent decision to retain the current tolerances and registrations for chlorpyrifos was based in significant part on EPA’s interpretation of a PbPk model for chlorpyrifos previously submitted by DowAgro (now Corteva), which mitigated to some degree EPA’s retention of the default FQPA safety factor for chlorpyrifos.  Corteva may submit further data addressing PD and PK differences for chlorpyrifos, and EPA has also stated that it intends to review some new animal studies for chlopyrifos, which purport to show neurodevelopmental effects at low exposure levels.  Perhaps these data will allow EPA to establish a point of departure (POD) for chlorpyrifos risk assessment without any need for a further excursion into the unfamiliar risk assessment territory represented by EPA’s use of epidemiology data for chlorpyrifos.


 

By James V. Aidala and Margaret R. Graham

On September 28, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was accepting public nominations of scientific experts to be considered for ad hoc participation on the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) through membership on the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) Science Review Board (SRB).  83 Fed. Reg. 49091.  EPA states that “all nominees will be considered for ad hoc participation providing independent scientific advice to the EPA on health and safety issues related to pesticides”  and requests that any individuals nominated have expertise in one or more of the following areas:  biochemistry; chemistry; epidemiology; human health risk assessment; pathology; physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) modeling; aquatic modeling; pharmacology; ecological risk assessment; environmental exposure and fate; environmental toxicology; occupational, consumer, and general exposure assessment; toxicology; dose response modeling; environmental engineering; statistics; water quality monitoring; hydrologist; Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist; computational toxicology; entomology; veterinary entomology; medical entomology, insect ecology, allergenicity, research veterinarian; inhalation toxicology; volatile organics; endocrinology, alternative testing methods, high throughput testing approaches, adverse outcome pathways, cross species extrapolation, and systematic review.  The Designated Federal Officer’s to whom nominations should be provided is listed in the Federal Register notice.  Nominations are due by November 13, 2018

Commentary

FPQA added this SRB to the previous authorization for the SAP to recognize the expanding universe of scientific questions which often underlie issues surrounding pesticide registration.  The FQPA amendment simply adds that “60 scientists who shall be available to the SAP” without specifying any particular disciplines or skills which might be useful to assist with the deliberations and review by the SAP.  This was intended to continually allow EPA to adapt to changing or evolving scientific questions without constantly tinkering with the membership of the SAP itself.  At the same time, it allows these ad hoc members to be recognized for their contributions and to be compensated in the same manner as SAP members.  


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom

On August 9, 2018, the majority of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) issued an opinion in the latest chlorpyrifos case (League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) v. Wheeler, No. 17-71636) granting the petition for review of a 2017 order by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that denied an administrative petition to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos; vacating the 2017 order; and remanding the matter back to EPA with explicit directions to EPA to “revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days.”  A separate dissent stated that the court should have dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.  Please see our blog item “EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos” for more information on EPA’s denial of the petition in 2017.

EPA argued in its brief that the court lacks jurisdiction to review the 2017 order denying the petition to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos because Section 408(g)(2)(C) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires EPA to rule on administrative objections to its denial of the petition to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos before judicial review is available under FFDCA Section 408(h)(1).The majority opinion rejected this argument, stating that FFDCA Section 408(h)(1) “does not ‘clearly state’ that obtaining a section (g)(2)(C) order in response to administrative objections is a jurisdictional requirement.” Rather than a jurisdictional limitation, the majority construed the objections process in FFDCA as a non-jurisdictional “claims-processing rule.”In contrast, the dissenting judge agreed with EPA’s argument that the court lacks jurisdiction to review this matter until after EPA responds to the objections to the 2017 order.

After concluding that the objections process is not jurisdictional in character, the majority next considered whether the petitioners should nonetheless be required to exhaust their administrative remedies by waiting until EPA responds to their objections before obtaining judicial review.Although FFDCA Section 408(g)(2)(C) requires EPA to rule on the objections “as soon as practicable,” EPA had taken no action for 13 months after the objections were filed.The majority concluded that the exhaustion requirement should be waived “in light of the strong individual interests against requiring exhaustion and weak institutional interests in favor of it.”

EPA did not specifically address the substantive merits of the 2017 order in its brief, and the majority found that EPA has consequently “forfeited any merits-based argument.”The 2017 order was issued in the context of an administrative record in which EPA has repeatedly determined that the FFDCA standard for maintenance of chlorpyrifos tolerances (“a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to the pesticide”) could not be met because of the risk of neurodevelopmental effects. The standard for registration under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) incorporates this same FFDCA standard. Although the 2017 order stated that “the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects is unresolved,” it did nothing to alter these prior EPA determinations. The majority noted that EPA’s assertion that “significant uncertainty” remains regarding the health effects of chlorpyrifos being directly at odds with the “reasonably certainty” standard and “therefore mandates revoking the tolerance under [FFDCA Section 408(b)(2)(A)(i)].” The majority concluded that the possibility that future evidence may contradict EPA’s current determinations cannot justify continued inaction, and that the failure of EPA to proceed with the revocation of the tolerances and the cancellation of the registrations for chlorpyrifos “has now placed the agency in direct contravention of the FFDCA and FIFRA.”

Commentary

The court’s direct instruction requiring EPA to proceed promptly with revocation of all tolerances and cancellations of all registrations for chlorpyrifos represents an unusually aggressive judicial intervention in the administrative process.Nevertheless, this outcome must be viewed in the context of an eleven year history beginning with an administrative petition that requested the same relief, followed by a writ of mandamus in 2015 from the same court requiring EPA to make a prompt decision on the petition.Although substantial controversy remains concerning the correct interpretation of epidemiology studies with chlorpyrifos, it appears that the court believes that EPA has not taken any action that would support a change in EPA’s prior conclusion that these studies constitute evidence of potential neurodevelopmental effects in children at chlorpyrifos exposure levels below the threshold for acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition. Had EPA’s 2017 denial of the administrative petition been accompanied by an amended risk assessment for chlorpyrifos which articulated a changed conclusion, the court may have been less likely to substitute its judgment for that of EPA.The court seemed to find that because the scientific assessments in the current administrative record could not support the “reasonable certainty” standard in the FFDCA, the conclusion it reached on the merits was unavoidable.

Please see our blog item “Oral Argument Held in Case Challenging EPA’s Denial of Petition to Revoke Chlorpyrifos Tolerances” for information on the oral argument that took place on July 9, 2018, and the briefing in this case.  Further information on the case proceedings is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.


 

By Timothy D. Backstrom

On July 9, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) held oral argument in League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) v. Pruitt, a case brought to challenge the decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to deny a 2007 petition by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  The 2007 petition requested that EPA revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances granted under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and all chlorpyrifos registrations granted under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  After a series of delays and court decisions concerning EPA action on the 2007 petition, the Ninth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus in In re PANNA v. EPA requiring that EPA take action to grant or to deny the petition no later than March 31, 2017.   Although EPA proposed in November 2015 to partially grant the 2007 petition and to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances based on concerns about neurodevelopmental effects in children, EPA ultimately decided to deny the entire PANNA and NRDC tolerance revocation petition in a decision dated March 29, 2017.  More information on EPA’s March 29, 2017, decision is available in our blog item “EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos.”

After the March 29, 2017 denial decision, the Ninth Circuit denied a motion for further mandamus relief in the PANNA case.  The court stated that, once EPA denies a tolerance revocation petition under FFDCA, “[f]iling objections and awaiting their resolution by the EPA Administrator is a prerequisite to obtaining judicial review of EPA’s final response to the petition.”  The petitioners in the current LULAC case filed administrative objections to EPA’s denial decision on June 5, 2017, but, on the same date, they also brought a new action seeking immediate judicial review.  Five States and the District of Columbia subsequently intervened in the new case.  EPA filed a motion to dismiss the LULAC case for lack of jurisdiction on August 21, 2017, but the court denied that motion, without prejudice to EPA renewing its jurisdictional arguments during briefing on the merits.

Background to Tolerance Petition Decision

EPA’s risk assessments concerning the potential neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos have been the subject of scientific controversy for a number of years.  In decisions that were the subject of significant criticism and controversy, EPA scientists construed the associations reported in certain epidemiological studies of exposure to chlorpyrifos as evidence that chlorpyrifos may cause neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels that are less than the threshold for induction of acetylcholinesterase inhibition.  In November, 2016, EPA issued an updated risk assessment for chlorpyrifos and all organophosphate (OP) pesticides based on the same epidemiology studies, which included a determination that EPA would retain the default 10X safety factor established by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) for chlorpyrifos and for all OP pesticides.  Pesticide industry representatives have raised concerns about the design and conduct of the chlorpyrifos epidemiology studies, the scientific plausibility of the proposed association of neurodevelopmental effects with low level chlorpyrifos exposure, and the rationale for extending the FQPA determination to OP pesticides other than chlorpyrifos.

Prior to the change in administration in 2017, it appeared that EPA would proceed with its 2015 proposal to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances based on the 2016 updated risk assessment.  Instead, on March 29, 2017, EPA decided to deny the 2007 petition and to defer its ultimate scientific decision concerning the neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos until after EPA completes the currently pending registration review process for chlorpyrifos.

Briefs in the LULAC Case

In their briefs, the petitioners and the intervenors in the LULAC case have objected to further delay in EPA’s scientific decision concerning the neurodevelopmental risks presented by chlorpyrifos, as well as to the procedures specified by FFDCA that would require that they await resolution of their objections before seeking judicial review.  From their perspective, EPA has already determined repeatedly that continued chlorpyrifos exposure is unsafe for infants and children, and EPA is therefore required to proceed with immediate revocation of all chlorpyrifos tolerances.

In their briefs, the petitioners and the intervenors argued that the procedures required by FFDCA are not jurisdictional, and that the court therefore has discretion to waive exhaustion of these procedures.  They also argued that exhaustion should be waived in this instance because allowing EPA time to rule on their objections would ultimately be futile, and because further delay would perpetuate EPA’s purported disregard of the FFDCA safety standard.  Further, they argued that, if immediate review is not available under FFDCA, it should be available under FIFRA because EPA also denied a request to cancel the FIFRA registrations for chlorpyrifos.  Finally, the petitioners requested during briefing that the court issue “a writ of mandamus directing EPA to decide LULAC’s objections within 60 days.”

In its brief, EPA argued that the petitioners lack any jurisdiction to bring the current case because the detailed procedures specified in the FFDCA are jurisdictional in nature, and exhaustion of these procedures therefore cannot be waived by a reviewing court.  EPA also argued that, even if the court could waive the exhaustion requirement, the petitioners have raised the same issues in their objections as they raised in their briefs, and there is no basis for the court to presume that allowing EPA to address these issues would be futile.  Moreover, EPA argued that FFDCA Section 346a(h)(5) expressly precludes separate judicial review under FIFRA of EPA’s decision concerning the 2007 petition.  Finally, EPA contended in its brief that the petitioners’ request for a writ of mandamus must be denied because the petitioners did not follow the procedure for making such a request in Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 21(a).

Commentary

During the oral arguments on July 9, 2018, two of the three judges on the Ninth Circuit panel reportedly expressed frustration concerning the prospect for years of further delay before EPA makes its ultimate decision concerning chlorpyrifos.  Although it is not clear how the court would overcome the formidable jurisdictional barriers to immediate judicial review, it appears that some sort of judicial decision or order compelling EPA to take more immediate action on chlorpyrifos is a possibility. More information regarding these proceedings is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom

On December 20, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an order in LULAC v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-71636, a case challenging an order denying administrative petitions to revoke the tolerances and cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos.  The court’s order includes actions concerning two pending motions.  The court has denied a motion by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Administrator Pruitt (Respondents) to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction while granting a motion by League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), et al. (Petitioners) to expedite briefing and hearing in the case.  More information on these two motions is available in our blog item “NGOs and Farmworkers File Motion for Expedited Briefing and Hearing in Chlorpyrifos Litigation.”

In support of their August 21, 2017, motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, Respondents argued that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires the Petitioners to exhaust their administrative remedies by submitting formal objections to the order denying their request to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos and then waiting for EPA to issue a final order before they may seek judicial review.  The Petitioners argued in response that requiring exhaustion in this instance would be “futile,” and that the court should also consider reviewing the EPA order under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), because EPA has declined to cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos.  In response, Respondents argued that Petitioners have not shown that requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies would be futile, and that 21 U.S.C. § 346a(h)(5) explicitly prohibits judicial review of any order concerning pesticide tolerances under any other statute, including FIFRA.

After the motion to dismiss was fully briefed, the court summarily denied it, but also characterized that denial as “without prejudice to renewing the arguments in the answering brief.”  The court also denied a motion by the Petitioners for oral argument concerning the pending motion to dismiss.  These two actions indicate that the court has decided to defer argument and resolution of the jurisdictional issues presented by the motion to dismiss until briefing and argument on the merits.

The court also granted an October 13, 2017, motion by the Petitioners to expedite briefing and hearing in the case.  Petitioners submitted this motion to expedite because they contend that the refusal of EPA to revoke the tolerances and cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos is causing ongoing harm even though EPA “did not and cannot determine that chlorpyrifos is safe under the Food Quality Protection Act.”  The court set the following expedited briefing schedule:  Petitioners’ opening brief is due January 23, 2018; Intervenors’ brief(s) are due February 6, 2018; Respondents’ answering brief is due March 8, 2018; Petitioners’ optional reply brief is due 28 days after service of Respondents’ brief; and Intervenors’ optional reply brief(s) are due 42 days after service of Respondents’ brief.  The court also directed the Clerk to “calendar this case [for argument] as soon as possible upon completion of briefing.”

Commentary

The current actions of the court should be viewed in the context of the prior decision by this same court to issue a writ of mandamus that required EPA to take action on pending petitions to cancel the registrations and revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos after what Petitioners claimed was a quite protracted administrative delay, and the subsequent decision by EPA under Administrator Pruitt to defer final action on chlorpyrifos, after the prior Administration had proposed to take the actions sought by the Petitioners.  By granting the motion to expedite, and also by deferring the ultimate disposition of the jurisdictional issues raised by EPA, the court appears to have given the Petitioners a prompt and full opportunity to explain why judicial intervention at this stage of the administrative process is warranted.  Nevertheless, because the jurisdictional arguments made by EPA are supported by substantial precedent, it could prove difficult for the Petitioners ultimately to overcome these arguments. 

More information on the chlorpyrifos litigation and related matters is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos


 

By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom

On October 13, 2017, Petitioners League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), et al. filed a motion to expedite briefing and hearing in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-71636 (9th Cir. June 5, 2017).  In their motion, Petitioners request that the court “expedite proceedings because of the harm being caused by [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] Administrator Pruitt leaving chlorpyrifos tolerances in effect when he did not and cannot determine that chlorpyrifos is safe under the Food Quality Protection Act.” 

Petitioners state there is good cause for expedition “because children continue to be exposed to chlorpyrifos in their food, drinking water, and the air around their homes, schools, and playfields, putting them at risk of such brain impairments as lower IQ, attention deficit disorders, and developmental delays,” and “Ninth Circuit Rule 27-12 provides that ‘motions to expedite briefing and hearing may be filed and will be granted upon a showing of good cause,’” including ‘“situations in which … in the absence of expedited treatment, irreparable harm may occur.’”  Pursuant to Ninth Circuit Rule 27-12, Petitioners determined the position of EPA counsel on the motion, who stated that, “EPA opposes the motion to expedite as premature under Circuit Rule 27-11(b).” 

 The Petitioners’ motion to expedite briefing was submitted despite the pendency of an unresolved motion to dismiss submitted by Respondents Administrator Pruitt and EPA on August 21, 2017.  In that motion, EPA argued that the court lacks jurisdiction to review the March 29, 2017, order denying the petition by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to revoke all Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) tolerances for chlorpyrifos, until after the Petitioners have exhausted their administrative remedies by filing objections to the denial, and EPA has issued a final order ruling on such objections.  In its motion to dismiss, EPA noted that the Ninth Circuit denied a motion by PANNA and NRDC for further mandamus relief in In re PANNA on July 18, 2017, stating that “one valid agency response to a petition challenging a pesticide’s tolerances is to ‘issue an order denying the petition,’” and ‘“now that EPA has issued its denial, substantive objections must first be made through the administrative process mandated by’ the FFDCA.”

 On September 27, 2017, Petitioners filed their opposition to the motion to dismiss.  Petitioners argued that exhaustion of administrative remedies by filing objections under the FFDCA is not an absolute jurisdictional prerequisite to judicial review, and that the court can proceed with review under the “futility doctrine” because EPA’s refusal to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos constitutes a “flagrant violation of a statutory prohibition.”  Petitioners also argued that even if FFDCA exhaustion is required, EPA has also denied the petition by PANNA and NRDC to cancel the registrations of chlorpyrifos, and that additional denial constitutes a final order that is subject to immediate review under FIFRA Section 16(b) because the notice and comment process concerning the petition was a “public hearing” under the applicable precedent.

 Commentary

The new motion by Petitioners LULAC, et al. to expedite briefing on the challenge to EPA’s denial of the PANNA and NRDC petition reflects the view of the Petitioners that this matter is urgent because continued use of chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the health of children, but this motion is unlikely to be resolved before the court rules on EPA’s pending motion to dismiss.  EPA has stated that it will oppose the Petitioners’ motion to expedite briefing as premature. Moreover, EPA has not yet replied to the arguments made by the Petitioners in their opposition to the pending dismissal motion.

To prevail on their argument that exhausting the administrative process prescribed by the FFDCA will be “futile,” the Petitioners likely will have to persuade the Court that these FFDCA procedures are not jurisdictional prerequisites to judicial review, and that there is little likelihood that EPA will change its mind in response to their objections.  With respect to the argument that EPA’s denial of the petition to cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos is final agency action subject to immediate review under FIFRA Section 16(b), EPA will likely contend that this argument is contravened by 21 U.S.C. § 346a(h)(5), which states: “any issue as to which review is or was obtainable under this subsection shall not be the subject of judicial review under any other provision of law.”  It could be difficult for Petitioners to defeat this jurisdictional prohibition in the FFDCA; they would presumably need to show the court that their substantive contentions concerning the hazards posed by chlorpyrifos would not be directly implicated in EPA’s final determination of whether or not to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos.

 This case will be carefully watched by pesticide industry observers. 

 More information on regulatory issues related to chlorpyrifos is available on our blog.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Sheryl L. Dolan, and Barbara A. Christianson

On September 6, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of and seeking public comment on draft guidance, Pesticide Registration Notice (PR Notice) 2017-XX: Notifications, Non-notifications and Minor Formulation Amendments.  EPA states it is issuing this notice to “align the notification program with the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) and [the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA)] and to clarify the processes for accepting minor, low risk registration amendments to be accomplished through notification, non-notification or as accelerated amendments.”  EPA is requesting comments, and specifically information on projected cost implications of this draft updated guidance.

PR Notices are issued by the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP).  EPA states that PR Notice 2017-XX will update and clarify “the scope of changes accepted by notification, non-notification and minor formulation amendments for all pesticide products, and supersedes both PR Notices 95-2 and 98-10 in their entirety.”  The PR Notice lists the changes from PRN 98-10 in a table.  Those changes include:

In addition to the changes listed on the table, modifications to PR Notice 98-10 consist of the following:

Notifications

  • F. Product Composition:  (1) Pesticide Category -- Under PR Notice 98-10, the pesticide categories "disinfectant" and "sanitizer" were two pesticide categories that were allowed to be added to a label by notification.  Under the proposed PR Notice, "disinfectant" and "sanitizer" were removed.
     
  • F. Product Composition: (2) Odor -- Under PR Notice 98-10, the terms "fragrance free" and "unscented" were allowed to be added to a label by a notification provided that the product is odorless or nearly odorless and contains odor-masking ingredient such as a perfume.  Under the proposed PR Notice, these terms were removed. 

Minor Formulation Amendments

  • A. Minor Formulation Amendments:  (1) Addition, deletion or substitution of one or more colorants in a formulation -- Under PR Notice 98-10, if a product was intended for a use as a seed treatment or rodenticide, it would not be eligible for an accelerated review; that restriction was deleted from the proposed PR Notice.
     
  • A. Minor Formulation Amendments:  (2) Addition, deletion or substitution of one or more inert ingredients (other than colorants and fragrances) in a formulation -- Under the proposed PR Notice, if a product is a dog/cat pet spot-on product or if an inert is a bittering agent or a safener, the product would not be eligible for an accelerated review. 
     
  • A. Minor Formulation Amendments:  (3) Addition, deletion or substitution of one or more fragrances in a formulation -- Under the proposed PR Notice, fragrances will be eligible for an accelerated review if all fragrance component ingredients are included on the Fragrance Ingredient List; individual fragrance component ingredients that exceed 0.1 percent (by weight) of the total pesticide product composition have existing approval for non-food use as an inert ingredient; and new/modified fragrances for antimicrobial products making public health claims are within the certified limits established for fragrances already approved for the product. 
     
  • Under the proposed PR Notice, products that are not eligible for accelerated review under minor formulation amendments are:
    • Pet spot-on products;
    • Rodenticides;
    • Change to an active ingredient source; 
    • Change to nominal concentration of the active ingredient; or
    • Addition of new or additional Confidential Statements of Formula (CSF).

 

EPA Procedures to Review Notifications

Under the proposed PR Notice, EPA outlines changes to the policy for processing notifications by the Registration Division (RD) and the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD), but procedures to process notifications by the Antimicrobials Division remain the same. 

One item to note under the proposed notification process for RD and BPPD is that a registrant may distribute or sell a product modified by notification once EPA receives the notification but, if EPA determines that a product has been modified through notification inappropriately, EPA may initiate regulatory and/or enforcement action without first providing the registrant with an opportunity to submit an application to amend the registration.

Registrants Submitting Minor Formulation Amendments

Under the proposed PR Notice, EPA requires that registrants submit with their application for registration a cover letter listing names and dates of all EPA accepted CSFs.  EPA will consider any CSFs not listed in the cover letter as superseded/no longer valid.

Comments on this PR notice are due October 6, 2017, and can be submitted online under Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-0671.

Commentary

Registrants should review the draft PR Notice carefully, as it includes important changes.  For example, the consequence for submitting a minor formulation amendment and neglecting to include a list of all current CSFs is severe.  As another example, EPA signals in its proposal that proceeding to market with a product revised through the notification process may be risky if the submitter has erred in its judgment regarding what is eligible for a notification.  Should the PR Notice be issued without change to this provision, submitters may wish to give close consideration to waiting until it has EPA’s written confirmation that a notification has been accepted before introducing the revised product to market.  Comments on issues of concern should be considered.


 
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