Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. serves small, medium, and large pesticide product registrants and other stakeholders in the agricultural and biocidal sectors, in virtually every aspect of pesticide law, policy, science, and regulation.

By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. BackstromLisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

On July 12, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in a Decision Memorandum that it has registered new uses and restored previously registered uses for sulfoxaflor.  EPA has approved the use of sulfoxaflor on alfalfa, corn, cacao, grains (millet, oats), pineapple, sorghum, teff, teosinte, tree plantations, and restored the uses on citrus cotton, cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, watermelons, some gourds), soybeans, and strawberries.  EPA states that substantial data show that when sulfoxaflor is used according to the label, it poses no significant risk to human health and poses a lower risk to non-target wildlife, including pollinators, than other registered alternative products.  EPA’s registration decision is available at www.regulations.gov in Docket Number EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0889-0570.

EPA’s decision follows an opinion issued on September 10, 2015, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacating EPA’s 2013 unconditional registration for the pesticide sulfoxaflor, and remanding the matter to EPA to obtain further studies and data regarding the effects of sulfoxaflor on bees and bee colonies.  That decision is discussed in our blog item available here. In response to that decision, EPA also issued a cancellation order that included provisions for the disposition of existing stocks of sulfoxaflor products.

After the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA reevaluated the data and on October 14, 2016, approved sulfoxaflor end-use registrations for limited uses that did not include crops that attract bees.  EPA also has been granting emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor since 2012, with the most recent emergency exemptions granted on June 17, 2019, for the use of sulfoxaflor to control tarnished plant bugs on cotton in 12 states, and to control sugarcane aphids on sorghum in 14 states.

In the July 12, 2019, decision adding new uses, restoring previous uses, and removing certain application restrictions, EPA states an unconditional registration under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 3(c)(5) for new uses of sulfoxaflor is backed by substantial data, including numerous pollinator studies submitted by the registrant, Dow AgroSciences (DAS).  With specific regard to sulfoxaflor’s impact on bees, EPA states the following:

Since the vacatur in 2015, DAS has submitted numerous additional pollinator studies. The pollinator data requirements listed in 40 CFR 158.630 have all been submitted or waived. EPA’s risk assessment process for pollinators has evolved since those data requirements were promulgated and now EPA generally assesses risks to bees using a three-tier process based on a more robust data set as described in two guidance documents: “Guidance for Assessing the Risks of Pesticides to Bees” (USEPA 2014) and “Guidance on Exposure and Effects Testing for Assessing Risks to Bees” (USEPA 2016). For sulfoxaflor, all Tier I data have been submitted. Three additional Tier II semi-field (tunnel) studies and two colony feeding studies have been submitted. Pollen and nectar residue data have been submitted for multiple crops. The submitted data covers all of the requested use patterns. For those crops that did not have data specific to pollen and nectar residues, data was extrapolated as appropriate from other crops. All regulatory data requirements for assessing pollinators have now been addressed and the EPA has adequate data to demonstrate that there will be no unreasonable adverse effects to honey bees resulting from the expanded registration of sulfoxaflor.

EPA’s decision also removes previously imposed application restrictions:

  • Removed the prohibition of use on crops grown for seed because EPA believes pollinator protection restrictions, including low use rates, will be in place regardless of whether the crop is grown for seed or for commodity harvest;
  • Removed the restriction to post-bloom application for bee-attractive crops only when there is low risk or limited potential for exposure to bees;
  • Removed the 12-foot buffer requirement because EPA believes the spray drift mitigation requirements on labels are adequate to limit drift; and
  • Removed the 2016 restriction against tank mixing because EPA states data show that there is no additional risk when sulfoxaflor is tank mixed with other compounds.

EPA’s decision includes the following crop specific restrictions:

  • Citrus: Only one application is allowed per year between 3 days before bloom and until after petal fall.
  • Ornamentals: Only one application is allowed during bloom, and that bloom must not exceed a rate of 0.071 lb ai/acre.
  • Pome Fruit, Stone Fruit, Tree Nuts and Pistachio: No application is allowed any time between 3 days prior to bloom and until after petal fall.
  • Small Fruit Vine Climbing and Low Growing Berry, Tree Plantations: No application is allowed any time between 3 days prior to bloom and until after petal fall.

EPA found that the FIFRA standard for registration is met for the registration of sulfoxaflor on the uses approved, and that the benefits of these uses outweigh the risks, but also set specific label requirements including restrictions to minimize potential exposure to bees:

  • Worker Protection:  “Applicators and other handlers must wear: Long-sleeved shirt and long pants, shoes plus socks, protective eyewear” and “Do not enter or allow worker entry into treated areas during the restricted entry interval (REI) of” 24 hours (for Transform WG label) and 12 hours (for Closer SC label).
  • Environmental Hazards Statement:  “This product is highly toxic to bees and other pollinating insects exposed to direct treatment or to residues in/on blooming crops or weeds. Protect pollinating insects by following label directions intended to minimize drift and reduce pesticide risk to these organisms.”
  • The RT25 (how long foliar residues of sulfoxaflor exhibit toxicity to honey bees):  “The RT25 for this product is less than or equal to 3 hours.”
  • Directions for Use:  “Notifying known beekeepers within 1 mile of the treatment area 48 hours before the product is applied will allow them to take additional steps to protect their bees. Also, limiting application to times when managed bees and native pollinators are least active, e.g. 2 hours prior to sunset or when the temperature is below 50°F at the site of application will minimize risk to bees.”

Commentary

This new decision by EPA may finally be the culmination of a long and convoluted process to register sulfoxaflor.  The litigation that resulted in vacatur of the initial registrations began in 2013.  At the time the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in 2015, vacatur was viewed by many observers as a novel and radical response to an EPA decision to register a new pesticide.  Since that time, registrants and users of newly approved active ingredients have encountered more aggressive litigation in which vacatur is often cited as a possible remedy.  This has created more uncertainty and concern about product availability, even after EPA approves an eagerly anticipated new product to meet a pressing pest control need.  In the case of sulfoxaflor, EPA has clearly determined that the data submitted by DAS demonstrate that any risks to pollinators presented by sulfoxaflor will be less than the risks presented by currently registered insecticides sulfoxaflor is likely to replace. This determination concerning relative risk based on review of additional data should address the deficiencies in the EPA rationale found by the Court when it vacated the 2013 sulfoxaflor registrations.

Interestingly, the current EPA decision may raise a similar issue concerning the sufficiency of EPA’s rationale concerning the effects of sulfoxaflor on endangered species.  EPA states the following in its Decision Memorandum:

Endangered Species

EPA has not made an effects determination for sulfoxaflor. EPA is currently focusing most of its resources for assessing impacts to listed species on its registration review program for currently registered pesticides. EPA believes that, as a general matter, older pesticides present a greater degree of risk to listed species than most new chemistries, including sulfoxaflor, and that it is therefore environmentally preferable in most circumstances for EPA to assess the impacts of existing pesticides sooner in the process than newer pesticides that are designed to compete with more risky alternatives. EPA believes that is especially true for sulfoxaflor, where the alternatives include organophosphates, neonicotinoids and pyrethroids. As a result, EPA does not believe the environment or the public would be best served by delaying the registration of new uses for sulfoxaflor to complete consultation. Focusing the limited resources of EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on completing a consultation on the effects of sulfoxaflor would by necessity come at the expense of putting more resources into evaluating – and consequently regulating, where appropriate – what EPA believes to be more toxic compounds, that, among other things, pose greater risk, to endangered species than does sulfoxaflor.

While it is clearly sensible for EPA and the Services to prioritize the limited resources available to make and to consult concerning effects determinations for endangered species by addressing existing pesticide classes that are likely to present the greatest risk before products with new chemistries that are intended to be more selective, it remains to be seen whether reviewing courts will be inclined to accept this type of rationale.  In particular, it will be interesting to see whether the sufficiency of this approach to endangered species determinations becomes an issue in any future litigation regarding sulfoxaflor or other newly registered active ingredients.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

On May 6, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was releasing its Proposed Interim Registration Review Decision (PID) for glyphosate acid and its various salt forms.  84 Fed. Reg. 19782.  In the PID, EPA states that it “did not identify any human health risks from exposure to any use of glyphosate” but did identify “potential risk to mammals and birds” within the application area or areas near the application area and “potential risk to terrestrial and aquatic plants from off-site spray drift, consistent with glyphosate’s use as a herbicide.”  Even with these potential risks, the PID states that “EPA concludes that the benefits outweigh the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used according to label directions” and proposes certain risk mitigation strategies, including:

  • “To reduce off-site spray drift to non-target organisms, the EPA is proposing certain spray drift management measures” with specific spray drift mitigation language to be included on all glyphosate product labels for products applied by liquid spray application;
  • “To preserve glyphosate as a viable tool for growers and combat weed resistance, the EPA is … proposing that herbicide resistance management language be added to all glyphosate labels” and to require measures “for the pesticide registrants to provide growers and users with detailed information and recommendations to slow the development and spread of herbicide resistant weeds”;
  • Inclusion on labels of a non-target organism advisory statement to alert users of potential impact to non-target organisms; and
  • “EPA is also proposing certain labeling clean-up/consistency efforts to bring all glyphosate labels up to modern standards.”

EPA states that these measures were discussed with glyphosate registrants, who do not oppose the proposed risk mitigation measures outlined in the PID.

The public can submit comments on EPA’s proposed decision at www.regulations.gov in Docket Number EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361.  Public comments are due by July 5, 2019.  In addition to the PID, EPA is also posting to the glyphosate docket EPA’s response to comments on glyphosate’s usage and benefits (dated April 18, 2019), EPA’s response to comments on the human health risk assessment (dated April 23, 2018), and EPA’s response to comments on the preliminary ecological risk assessment (dated November 21, 2018). 

This PID was issued shortly after the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s announcement on April 8, 2019, of the opening of a docket on the draft toxicological profile for glyphosate.  84 Fed. Reg. 13922.  ATSDR seeks comments and additional information or reports on studies about the health effects of glyphosate for review and potential inclusion in the profile.  Comments are due by July 8, 2019.

Commentary

EPA’s PID and related documents, along with ATSDR’s draft profile and the peer review which will follow, can be expected to become part of the larger debate about the potential risks of glyphosate.  In 2017, EPA evaluated the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate, and released its draft human health and ecological risk assessments.  See our December 19, 2017, blog item "EPA Releases Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Glyphosate for Public Comment" for more information. 

EPA’s PID is interesting not only for the conclusions EPA reached following its review of data submitted by registrants in response to a data call-in (DCI) and following the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel’s (SAP) meeting to consider and review scientific issues related to EPA’s evaluation of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate, but for the issues that remain to be addressed.  Notably, EPA states that it has not considered the petition filed on September 27, 2018, to reduce glyphosate’s tolerance because the petition was filed after the comment period for the human health and ecological risk assessments closed.  Instead, EPA plans to post the petition in the glyphosate docket and address the petition concurrently with the development of the Interim Registration Review Decision.

In addition, EPA has not in the PID or related documents addressed issues regarding its Endangered Species Act (ESA) assessment or its Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) activities.  EPA states it intends to complete an assessment of risk to ESA-listed species prior to completing its final registration review decision for glyphosate, and that it also will make an EDSP determination under Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) Section 408(p) before completing its registration review.  EPA also notes that it continues to evaluate risks to pollinators, and that if it determines “that additional pollinator exposure and effects data are necessary to help make a final registration review decision for glyphosate, then the EPA will issue a DCI to obtain these data.”  Although there are significant areas that remain to be resolved, EPA issued the PID “so that it can (1) move forward with aspects of the registration review case that are complete and (2) implement interim risk mitigation.”

More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog.


 

By James V. Aidala and Margaret R. Graham, M.S.

On March 21, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was updating its Residual Time to 25% Bee Mortality (RT25) Data Table with information it has collected since the table was first published in 2014.  EPA states that the “RT25 data help farmers and beekeepers know about how long a specific pesticide may remain toxic to bees and other insect pollinators following foliar application to crops,” and the new data “reflect the results of studies the agency has analyzed as part of [its] routine pesticide regulatory activities.”  One example that EPA provides regarding how this new data will work is that farmers can now “choose pesticides that quickly lose their toxicity to bees,” and that applying the products in the evening “helps ensure that by morning the pests have been dealt with and blooming crops are safe for bees.” 

EPA states that RT25 values are a function of a number of factors including application rate, physical-chemical properties, dissipation, crop, and pesticide formulation.  The values provided were compiled from registrant-submitted data submitted to fulfill the data requirement for Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Toxicity of Residues on Foliage study (OCSPP Guideline 850.3030).  EPA states that the honey bee toxicity of residues on foliage study “is a laboratory test designed to determine the length of time over which field weathered foliar residues remain toxic to honey bees, or other species of terrestrial insects” and, depending on the chemical tested, “either the technical grade active ingredient or a specific formulation was tested using either the honey bee, alfalfa leaf cutting bee, or alkali bee.”  The data table lists the test material, the species tested, and the plant species on which residues were aged.

EPA plans to update the table annually as it collects additional data going forward.  More information on EPA’s actions intended to protect pollinators is available on EPA’s website.

Commentary

In addition to providing the residual toxicity values, the table also illustrates the wide range of toxicity values among the various pesticides.  RT25 times for the different active ingredients can range between a few and over 500 hours to reach the RT25 threshold.  Even different formulations using the same active ingredient can have a significant difference in toxicity values.  This illustrates the importance of reading the specific label instructions for a pesticide, even one that might be generally familiar to the user.

EPA’s publication of this information online also imposes a duty for EPA to continually update the table, especially to capture any changes in the information appearing in an earlier listing of the data.  If, upon further review or later data submissions there are changes to the table for a product, EPA will need to alert users to potentially important changes in the information.  Again, this illustrates the need for reading the label for each pesticide at the time of application, since some important information may have changed.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.’s (B&C®) much anticipated and highly acclaimed annual Forecast, “Predictions and Outlook for U.S. Federal and International Chemical Regulatory Policy 2018,” is now available.  In the Forecast, the lawyers, scientists, and chemical regulatory specialists at B&C and its affiliated consulting firm, The Acta Group (Acta®), offer comprehensive and highly useful observations on the fast-changing and nuanced area of domestic and global chemical legal, scientific, and regulatory issues expected to be hot topics in 2018. This 38-page document is chock-full of insights, predictions, and useful information.

Happy New Year and enjoy reading our predictions!


 

By James V. Aidala and Margaret R. Graham

On January 12, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Policy to Mitigate the Acute Risk to Bees from Pesticide Products (Mitigation Policy) which describes methods for addressing acute risks to bees from pesticides.  EPA states that this Mitigation Policy is “more flexible and practical than the proposed policy” that was issued on May 29, 2015, and it has “made modifications to its approach with the goal of better targeting compounds that pose an acute risk, and with the goal of reducing potential impact of this effort on growers.”  EPA states that it will use its Tier 1 acute risk assessment to, in part, determine the products that trigger concerns about pollinator risk that the label restrictions are intended to address.  EPA will begin implementing this Policy in 2017 by sending letters to registrants describing steps that must be taken to incorporate the new labeling.  More information on the Mitigation Policy, including its supporting documents, and EPA’s response to comments submitted on the proposed policy, is available on www.regulations.gov under Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0818.

Also on January 12, 2017, EPA published preliminary pollinator-only risk assessments for the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, and an update to its preliminary risk assessment for imidacloprid, published in January 2016.  EPA states that the preliminary assessments for clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran are similar to the preliminary pollinator assessment for imidacloprid, in that they showed that “most approved uses do not pose significant risks to bee colonies,” but “spray applications to a few crops, such as cucumbers, berries, and cotton, may pose risks to bees that come in direct contact with residue.”  As for the updated imidacloprid assessment, EPA states that is looked at potential risks to aquatic species, and identified some risks for aquatic insects.  Interested parties will have 60 days to comment on the preliminary risk assessments after notice is published in the Federal Register.  In terms of comments, EPA states that it is especially interested in getting input from stakeholders “on the new method for assessing potential exposure and risk through pollen and nectar.”  Links to risk assessment dockets for each individual insecticide are available on EPA’s website under Schedule for Review of Neonicotinoid Pesticides.  EPA states it is hopes to release the final neonicotinoid risk assessments by mid-2018.

Commentary

The revised Mitigation Policy has been long in coming since it was first released over eighteen months ago.  The delay in revising its approach reflects the complexity of the comments submitted, and EPA’s deliberateness in more finely crafting its policies, given the passage of time and other considerations.  This revised policy contains more flexibility and explicit discussion of the need for exceptions to blanket requirements in response to some of the comments received on the earlier proposal.  There remains significant public and regulator concern about the possible impacts on pollinators from pesticide use, however, there is currently less of a manic tone to EPA’s statements and actions.

For example, when discussing how EPA will approach changing the labels of the affected universe of pesticide products, there is a much less onerous tone and no specific deadlines for registrants to submit revised labels “or else.”  (The 2013 directives to registrants included demands for thousands of revised labels to be submitted within six weeks “or else” -- EPA would take “appropriate action” under FIFRA.)  EPA reminds us all that it retains authority to impose these new requirements broadly, a statement that will strike some as regulatory overreach, but the tone and approach is more in line with past EPA “guidance” about how it will approach a new or revised regulatory concern.   

Similar to what EPA previously concluded about imidacloprid, where that assessment concluded that the most controversial use -- corn seed treatments -- did not indicate a risk concern, EPA did include in its summary about the other three neonicotinoid pesticides that:

  • The assessments for clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, similar to the preliminary pollinator assessment for imidacloprid showed:  most approved uses do not pose significant risks to bee colonies.  However, spray applications to a few crops, such as cucumbers, berries, and cotton, may pose risks to bees that come in direct contact with residue.

This might unfairly be summarized as:  after years of regulatory analysis EPA has concluded that if insecticides come into direct contact with insects, there is likely to be a risk to the exposed insect. 

This conclusion would be too simplistic since EPA and other regulatory bodies have expressed concern about what unintended exposures to insecticides might cause, and more generally the possibility of colony level impacts on honeybee and other pollinator populations from pesticide use.  Some critics will continue to insist that EPA broaden its regulatory approach to more than just pesticides used for crops under contracted pollinator services.  The broader issue of pesticide drift and possible impacts on non-target species will continue to be a concern for all pesticides.

Perhaps the more deliberate consideration of needed data generation and assessment that seems to be the current approach will allow both more refined regulatory controls if needed, and a reduction in the sometimes hot rhetoric which has accompanied the pollinator issues.

Lastly, although this revised Mitigation Policy and the three new preliminary assessments are not unexpected next steps as part of the ongoing registration review program for pesticides, given their very late release -- less than ten days before the arrival of a new Administration -- some might question whether this is part of the “midnight regulations” pushing the political agenda of the outgoing Administration.  The new leadership may revise what has been released, and may come to different conclusions about any needed restrictions.  That said, the issue of whether certain pesticides are having a dangerous impact on honeybee populations will continue to be a concern for regulators both in the U.S. and globally.


 

By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell

On January 22, 2016, Ontario released for consultation a draft Health Action Plan (Plan) to reduce losses of honeybees and other pollinators caused by several “stressors” stated in the Plan to include: (1) reduced habitat and poor nutrition; (2) diseases, pests, and genetics; (3) exposure to pesticides; and (4) extreme weather and climate change.  This action plan is part of a broader strategy to protect pollinators, with Ontario’s aim, in part, to reach an 80 percent reduction in the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds by 2017.   Other actions taken by Ontario related to pollinators and the regulation of corn and soybean seeds treated with neonicotinoids are discussed in our blog item Canadian Province Finalizes Neonic Reduction Rule

Comments can be submitted through the Environmental Registry until March 7, 2016.

The Plan “identifies potential actions that have been informed through an ongoing consultation process with key stakeholders and the broader public.”  For each of the four stressors identified as a cause of the pollinator decline, the Plan summarizes what information Ontario has gathered, what potential actions it is considering, and what potential additional action areas exist.  With regard to the exposure to pesticides, the Plan states the following regarding potential actions for Ontario to take and additional measures under consideration.

Potential Actions by the Province:

  • Increase education and outreach activities to stakeholder groups on Best Management Practices (BMP) and integrated pest management to support the implementation of Ontario Regulation 63/09 under the Pesticides Act;
  • Support integrated pest management training for growers;
  • Enhance sector outreach to support beekeeper education around the use of appropriate pest treatments in-hive;
  • Continue to work with industry to support agricultural production and land stewardship practices that reduce pollinator pesticides exposure;
  • Explore opportunities to facilitate completion and launch of an e-tool to alert pesticide applicators of nearby beehives for the purpose of reducing bee exposures;
  • Provide financial support for producers to acquire dust deflectors for planting equipment through the Great Lakes Agricultural Stewardship Initiative;
  • Enhance provincial monitoring efforts to track changes in agricultural practices stemming from the implementation of Ontario Regulation 63/09; and
  • Monitor neonicotinoid concentrations in the environment.

Potential Additional Action Areas:                        

  • Profile and highlight BMPs for pesticide use in agriculture;
  • Improve beekeeper education on the effectiveness of honey bee pest treatments; and
  • Support research in selective breeding strategies for honey bees resistant to pests and diseases.

The Plan also discusses Ontario’s research and monitoring efforts, including its intent to align and leverage existing research programs and its consideration to launch a special “Call for Proposals” to “fund new pollinator health research projects to fill knowledge gaps for example, understanding how varroa infestations interact with other stressors, studying implications of climate change for Ontario’s pollinators and assessing the effectiveness of various land management practices.”

In addition to submitting comments on the Plan, Ontario also developed an online survey for input on what priorities should be the focus to improve pollinator health and what steps should be taken to improve pollinator health.


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

On January 6, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in collaboration with California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced the release of a preliminary pollinator risk assessment for the neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid (Preliminary Risk Assessment or Assessment).  In its assessment, EPA states that imidacloprid potentially poses a risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators. 

EPA coordinated efforts with Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PRMA).  PMRA simultaneously released the overview and science evaluation of its imidacloprid pollinator-only assessment, which reaches the same preliminary conclusions as set forth in EPA’s Assessment.  PMRA plans to release the complete assessment with appendices as a revised version on January 18, 2016, and to accept written comments until March 18, 2016.

EPA’s Preliminary Risk Assessment will be subject to a 60-day comment period commencing on the announcement of the Assessment in the Federal Register.  EPA did not indicate how long it will be before the Federal Register notice is issued. 

This Assessment is the first of four such assessments that will be prepared in 2016 under President Obama’s National Pollinator Strategy.  The other three assessments, for neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, are scheduled to be released for public comment in December 2016.  EPA also states that following the receipt of public comments on this Assessment by December 2016, it plans to issue a revised Preliminary Ecological Risk Assessment that will: “(i) consider any comments or information submitted in response to this bee-only preliminary risk assessment; (ii) incorporate additional data EPA anticipates to receive that is relevant to bees; and, (iii) assess the potential risks of all registered uses of imidacloprid to all taxa.”

EPA’s Preliminary Risk Assessment describes how EPA conducted a screening level assessment (Tier I) for the various uses of imidacloprid, with a stepwise, tiered risk assessment approach evaluating risks to individual bees first and, if needed, risks to the colony.  EPA has divided its risk findings for honey bees for the registered use patterns of imidacloprid into three categories:  (1) Crop Groups/Use Patterns that Present Low On-Field Risk; (2) Crop Groups/Use Patterns with Uncertainty in Colony (Tier II) Assessment; and (3) Crop Groups/Use Patterns with Colony (Tier II) Risk Indicated, with this last category including “Citrus Fruits (Oranges)” and “Oilseed (Cotton).”  EPA further states:  “Based on a tri-agency analysis of the statistical and biological considerations of the data, a NOAEC and LOAEC of 25 and 50 μg a.i./L in nectar were determined based on reductions of the number of adult workers, numbers of pupae, pollen stores and honey stores which persisted across much of the study duration.  The level of imidacloprid in nectar at or below which no effects would be expected to the colony is determined to be 25 μg a.i./L.”

Additional information regarding EPA’s actions regarding neonicotinoid insecticides and the National Pollinator Strategy can be found on our blog.  EPA stated its intent to hold a webinar regarding the imidacloprid Preliminary Risk Assessment in early February 2016.  More information can be found on EPA’s website.

Commentary

EPA’s statements about the assessment have indicated that imidacloprid uses on citrus and cotton are of greatest concern.  Not included in this assessment is what, if any, specific regulatory actions might be needed to reduce any risks to an acceptable level.  Regardless, the registrants, along with other stakeholders, will almost certainly comment on the assessment (likely to say that the risks are both overestimated, according to the registrants, and underestimated, according to environmental groups).

What may be of less notice is what EPA appears to conclude about the other uses of the pesticide.  Not long ago, many claimed that significant honeybee decline was due to planting crops, especially corn, with neonicotinoid seed treatments such as imidacloprid.  This assessment appears to contradict that assertion (along with other improvements that have been made in reducing fugitive dust exposures during application).  And, even if EPA is correct in its assessment that the citrus and cotton uses are of concern, there are many other uses of imidacloprid currently suspended from the market in the European Union (EU) -- where cotton and citrus are not widely produced.  This EPA assessment might become part of the debate about the rationale behind the current EU policies.  

The documents released today are long (the assessment is 305 pages with an appendix of 212 pages).  That EPA plans to complete its assessment within this calendar year indicates that current EPA leaders want any decision to be issued (or at least be framed) before the arrival of any new Administration.  That alone will cause some to question the degree to which any actions are based more on “science and data” or on the “politics” of pollinator protection.  


 

By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala

In a press release issued on November 22, 2015, the Canadian province of Québec (Quebec) announced its release of Québec Pesticide Strategy 2015-2018.  Although the Strategy itself is available only in French, Québec has provided a summary of the Strategy in English, which is available here.

Québec’s press release states that the Strategy “sets out the major directions and goals that will guide government action to protect public health, pollinators, and the environment in the coming years.”  One of the ways the Strategy seeks to do this is to impose additional restrictions on the use of the "highest-risk pesticides" which the Strategy states includes atrazine, chlorpyrifos, and neonicotinoid insecticides.  To reduce use of high risk pesticides, the Strategy’s “Objectives” to be implemented through legislative and regulatory changes include:

  • Requiring agricultural application of such highest-risk pesticides to be "justified by an agronomist in advance of 100% of cases";
  • Tripling of the number of pesticides that are banned in urban environments for use on lawns and green spaces;
  • Obliging owners of golf courses that use the greatest amount of pesticides to reduce their use of the highest-risk products by 25 percent; and
  • Authorizing the "unrestricted sale of all biopesticides by all retailers" and encouraging “the application of the lowest-risk pesticides through economic incentives (levies, permits and compensation fees).”

To lower exposures, the Strategy calls for ensuring adequate qualification levels for employees that apply pesticides and increasing mandatory minimum distance when pesticides are applied near inhabited areas.

With specific regard to neonicotinoid insecticides, Québec seeks to reduce such use with the following “Objectives,” some of which overlap with the Objectives noted above for high risk pesticides:

  • Banning the use of all neonicotinoids for lawn and flower bed maintenance;
  • Requiring agricultural application of such neonicotinoids to be "justified by an agronomist in advance of 100% of cases"; and
  • Encouraging the use of seeds uncoated with neonicotinoids through economic incentives such as levies, permits, and compensation fees.

Québec also intends to obtain additional information about use of treated seeds in Quebec by requiring companies to submit reports on Québec sales of neonicotinoid-treated seeds.

Québec in its Strategy summary also describes the following specific activities it plans to undertake in 2016:

  • Amend the Pesticides Management Code to “tighten the conditions under which pesticides may be used”;
  • Modernize the Pesticides Act to incorporate coated seeds and strengthen compliance through a system of administrative penalties; and
  • Hold pesticide users accountable by “having users of highest-risk pesticides assume a greater share of associated environmental and public health costs.”

Commentary

Québec’s Strategy to impose additional restrictions on the use of the "highest-risk pesticides," including neonicotinoid insecticides, is part of its efforts following a 2011 strategy aimed at reducing the risks related to pesticide use by 25 percent by 2021.  The Canadian province of Ontario also issued final regulations in June 2015 aimed at reducing the area planted with maize and soybean seed treated with neonicotinoid insecticides as discussed in our blog item Canadian Province Finalizes Neonic Reduction Rule, although Quebec’s Strategy goes arguably farther by broadening the scope of the pesticides at issue to include atrazine and chlorpyrifos.  It remains to be seen whether different rules in different provinces will create any confusion or other regulatory issues for companies seeking to comply with these restrictions.

In the U.S., the issue of forbidding “prophylactic” use of pesticides has been raised to date primarily at the local level in a relatively few number municipalities.  Regarding pollinator issues more generally in the U.S., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of reviewing comments it received on its “Proposal to Mitigate the Exposure to Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticide Products” released earlier this year. The next milestone in EPA activity related to neonicotinoid pesticides is the expected release of a registration review risk assessment document for imadicloprid, a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, before the end of the calendar year.

More information on pesticides and pollinators is available on our blog under topics "pesticides" and "pollinators."


 

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

In an opinion issued on September 10, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unconditional registration for the pesticide sulfoxaflor and remanded the matter to EPA to obtain further studies and data regarding the effects of sulfoxaflor on bees and bee colonies.  Sulfoxaflor is a new insecticide in the class of insecticides referred to as neonicotinoids, but its mechanism of action is distinct from other neonicotinoids.  The Petitioners in this case were various trade organizations representing commercial beekeepers, as well as some individual beekeepers.  The registrant Dow AgroSciences LLC (Dow) intervened in the action.

EPA granted an unconditional registration for sulfoxaflor on May 6, 2013, subject to a variety of risk mitigation measures, including a lower application rate, longer intervals between applications, and certain crop-specific label restrictions.  EPA had previously proposed to issue a conditional registration for sulfoxaflor in January 2013, citing pollinator data gaps that could be addressed by requiring Dow to conduct and submit further studies.  Under that proposal, use of sulfoxaflor would have been allowed at a reduced application rate during the time needed to complete data development.  The court found that the subsequent decision by EPA to register unconditionally sulfoxaflor was not supported by substantial evidence, as required by Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 16(b), both because EPA failed to adhere to its own scientific methodology and because the rationale that EPA provided for granting an unconditional registration could not be reconciled with the analysis upon which EPA based its prior proposal to register conditionally sulfoxaflor.

EPA evaluated the potential risk to bees and bee colonies from sulfoxaflor use utilizing the Pollinator Risk Assessment Framework, a scientific risk assessment methodology developed after consultations between EPA, Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency, and the State of California, and presented by EPA to the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel in 2012.  The court found that the rationale provided for EPA’s unconditional registration decision could not be reconciled with findings that EPA itself made using this methodology or with the rationale EPA provided for its prior proposal to issue a conditional registration.  EPA had decided it was necessary to proceed to Tier 2 of the pollinator risk assessment after reviewing risk quotients and residue data in Tier 1 of the assessment.  EPA found the available data for Tier 2 to be insufficient to allow indefinite use of sulfoxaflor, even at a reduced application rate.  The court could not reconcile this finding with the subsequent decision to grant an unconditional registration, even with the specified mitigation measures.  The court found that “given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the EPA’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.”  The court stated that “EPA has no real idea whether sulfoxaflor will cause unreasonable adverse effects on bees, as prohibited by FIFRA.”

EPA argued that with a reduced application rate, the risk quotients and residue analysis in Tier 1  was “close enough” to sufficient to avoid the specified quantitative trigger for a Tier 2 analysis, thereby rendering any deficiencies in the available Tier 2 data irrelevant.  The court effectively stated in response that close enough is not good enough, citing another recent Ninth Circuit decision in which a risk concern that is triggered by a margin of exposure less than or equal to 1000 was held to be triggered when the margin was exactly 1000.  Thus, this court once again placed EPA on notice that it must follow its own methodology with precision, and that EPA cannot justify deviations from its own methodology by simply stating that it is exercising expert judgment.

Commentary

This is an unusual case because the registration of a new pesticidal active ingredient has been vacated on substantive as opposed to procedural grounds.  The court’s rationale reflects a lack of judicial deference to what EPA typically refers to as the scientific “weight of the evidence.”  While the term itself does not appear in the opinion, the court is insisting that EPA must follow its standard methodology without allowing for any deviations based on professional judgment.  Although in this instance the court has supported the position of opponents of pesticide use, judicial reluctance to accept scientific “weight of the evidence” conclusions could also make it harder for EPA to impose additional restrictions when new but inconclusive evidence appears.

This case could cause EPA to be more explicit in adding procedures to its standard analytic methodologies that allow deviations from the methodology based on professional judgment.  The case could also cause EPA to reconsider its recent reluctance to avoid issuing conditional registrations and its preference for unconditional registrations for new active ingredients.  In any case, decisions that afford EPA less discretion to use “weight of the evidence” reasoning when basing scientific conclusions on less than conclusive data or studies could have an impact on a number of EPA practices and policies involving interpretation of scientific data.


 

By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell

 

On June 16, 2015, the California Superior Court for the County of Almeda denied the petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America, et al. (PANNA) for a writ of mandate to direct the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to set aside and vacate its final decisions approving amended registrations of Dinotefuran 20SG manufactured by Mitsui Chemicals Agro and Venom manufactured by Valent USA. 

 

The active ingredient in both products at issue, dinotefuran, is a neonicotinoid pesticide that has been subject to additional reviews and labeling requirements with regard to its impact on pollinating bees on the federal and state level.  PANNA argued, in part, that under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), DPR should not have approved the amended labels because it had not developed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) describing the potential environmental impacts, analyzing direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, and analyzing alternatives. 

 

The court held as a matter of law that “to give effect to CEQA’s current policy goals as developed since 1979 in the Public Resources Code, in the CEQA Guidelines and in case law, that the court must read the DPR’s regulations as requiring that the DPR apply current CEQA analysis in deciding whether to register pesticides.”  That does not, however, require DPR to comply with all of CEQA’s documentation requirements; instead, DPR’s environmental documentation is required to “address only those significant adverse environmental effects that can reasonably be expected to occur, directly or indirectly, from implementing the proposal.”

 

With regard to the standard of review, the court found that DPR’s decision is in the nature of an EIR, which required the court to review the adequacy of the decision for substantial evidence, and not, as PANNA had argued, the functional equivalent of a negative declaration that would have triggered a “fair argument” review standard.  The court then found there was substantial evidence in the administrative record supporting DPR’s decision that the proposed mitigation measures will eliminate any significant environmental impact.  The court held that the record supported DPR’s assertion that the product labels provide necessary environmental protections, noting, for example, that EPA’s conclusion that the federal labeling is adequate to protect bees is substantial evidence to support DPR’s “identical conclusion.”  The court further held that DPR was not required to consider the feasibility of alternatives. 

 

Since the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts a state from imposing label requirements that are different from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved label, the court noted that DPR’s decision was either to register the products consistent with EPA’s approved labels or not register the products for use in California.  Although DPR’s failure to conduct a risk-benefit analysis was not argued before the court, the decision, by way of dicta, noted that the “record suggests that the DPR conducted a de facto risk-benefit analysis and did not actually conclude that the labeling on the Insecticides would mitigate all adverse affect on bees.”  Instead, the court suggests DPR’s risk-benefit analysis was based on the fact that under FIFRA, the only alternative would be to deny the registrations and that would be infeasible considering economic, social, or other considerations. 

 

The decision is a significant judgment regarding DPR’s ability to make decisions regarding label amendments and the court’s ability to review such decisions.  It appears likely an appeal will be filed.  It is also important to note that DPR’s reevaluation of neonicotinoids is still pending -- DPR is required under AB 1789 (codified at Food and Agricultural Code Section 12838(a)) to issue a determination before July 1, 2018, regarding the neonicotinoid registrations and to adopt any control measures determined to be necessary to protect pollinator health.  


 
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