By Jason E. Johnston, M.S.
On May 23, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held an “Environmental Modeling Public Meeting” (EMPM). As stated in the April 12, 2018, Federal Register notice announcing the meeting, the “EMPM provides a public forum for EPA and its stakeholders to discuss current issues related to modeling pesticide fate, transport, and exposure for pesticide risk assessments in a regulatory context.” The overall theme of the EMPM was the quantitative use of surface water monitoring data.
The morning session featured a series of presentations by representatives from EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Washington State Department of Agriculture concerning the development of a framework to use surface water monitoring data quantitatively in pesticide risk assessments. A major focus of the presentations was the exploration and evaluation of the capabilities of the USGS recently-developed model SEAWAVE-QEX to improve the robustness of surface water monitoring datasets so that they might be used in pesticide risk assessments. Further public presentations on the evaluation and development of the framework are scheduled at the American Chemical Society meeting to be held on August 19-23, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. There are plans to hold a Scientific Advisory Panel meeting on the framework in 2019, but no exact date has been set.
The afternoon session consisted of presentations by representatives of the registrant community. Topics addressed included developments in the use of surface water monitoring data in quantitative risk assessment, a statistical analysis of non-targeted monitoring data at the watershed scale, the creation of a curated database of water and sediment monitoring data for synthetic pyrethroids, the use of high-resolution spatial and temporal monitoring data to parameterize watershed scale drift exposure predictions, and an evaluation of model predictability using monitoring data and refined pesticide use at the watershed level.
Presentations from the May 23, 2018, EMPM will soon be posted to Docket No. EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0879, accessible at www.regulations.gov.
Registrants should monitor these activities, as this effort at EPA represents a potential shift away from the current reliance exclusively on estimated water concentrations in quantitative human health and ecological risk assessments.
By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Lisa R. Burchi
Beginning on January 23, 2018, the European Commission (EC) opened a consultation period on the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) risk assessment process (scientific advice). The EC states it is seeking feedback on its process both as a “follow-up to the commitments made by the Commission in reply to the European Citizens’ Initiative on glyphosate,” and in response to “citizens [that] have put into question the risk assessment based on studies provided by the industry and this in particular where the industry seeks an authorisation, e.g. for pesticides, GMOs etc.”
The General Food Law Regulation established EFSA, an independent scientific agency, to provide the risk assessment component of its risk analysis principle; the other two components are risk management and risk communication. EFSA provides its scientific opinions “which form the basis for the measures taken by the [European Union (EU)] in the food chain.” The EC states the General Food Law Regulation “is the cornerstone of the EU regulatory framework covering the entire food chain: ‘from farm to fork.’” The EC is requesting feedback to help it “look into how [the EC] can improve the current system and to address citizens’ expectations about independence and transparency of the EU risk assessment system.” The EC is specifically requesting views and experiences on the following:
- The transparency and independence of the EU risk assessment system with respect to the underlying industry studies and information on which EFSA's risk assessment/scientific advice is based;
- Risk communication; and
- The governance of EFSA, in particular the involvement of the EU Member States (MS) in the EU risk assessment system.
To contribute, interested parties must fill out the online questionnaire available here. All stakeholders and EU as well as non-EU citizens are welcome to contribute to this consultation. The consultation period will close on March 20, 2018.
This Consultation is of significant interest to stakeholders, particularly in balancing the potential need for increased transparency with the need to protect confidential business information, trade secret information, and proprietary expensive data investments. Decisions made by EFSA also could have a global impact on data protection, as any decisions made by EFSA to increase transparency could affect whether certain data can continue to be protected under other regulatory programs.
Outside of the transparency issues that are receiving much attention of late, it is important to note generally that views about risk assessment policies across governments tend to be driven by underlying political disagreements, with support or criticism somewhat predictable depending on how the resultant decisions are “for or against” the view of an interested constituency.
The transparency issue here should be considered not only on its own merits, but also within the controversy that surrounded the EU assessment approach for glyphosate, an herbicide which is widely used in production of genetically modified crops. As a stalking horse for the EU debate about biotechnology crops, the EU glyphosate assessment has, for example, become embroiled as part of the glyphosate carcinogenic classification of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). See our blog item IARC Announces Cancer Classification for Glyphosate and Other Pesticides. The IARC review concluded that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen,” contrary to most other assessments done by the U.S., Canada, and some EU Member States. Comments on the general EU risk assessment process can be expected to be intertwined with the perspective that any commenter has on the glyphosate assessment, even though the request is for public comment on the assessment process generally, and not only specifically about glyphosate.
More information on glyphosate is available on our blog under key word glyphosate.
By Timothy D. Backstrom, James V. Aidala, and Lisa M. Campbell
On December 18, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is releasing for public comment the draft human health and ecological risk assessments for glyphosate. EPA’s Draft Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessments for Glyphosate website states that the “draft risk assessments and supporting documents will be available in glyphosate’s registration review docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0361 on www.regulations.gov in early 2018,” and that EPA will “open a 60-day public comment period for the draft risk assessments, evaluate the comments received, and consider any potential risk management options for this herbicide.” Many of the assessment documents, including the draft human health risk assessment, are already available on EPA’s website, but not yet posted in the docket.
The EPA announcement includes the following summary of EPA’s determinations:
- The draft human health risk assessment concludes that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The Agency’s assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label. The Agency’s scientific findings are consistent with the conclusions of science reviews by a number of other countries as well as the 2017 National Institute of Health Agricultural Health Survey.
- EPA’s human health review evaluated dietary, residential/non-occupational, aggregate, and occupational exposures. Additionally, the Agency performed an in-depth review of the glyphosate cancer database, including data from epidemiological, animal carcinogenicity, and genotoxicity studies.
- The ecological risk assessment indicates that there is potential for effects on birds, mammals, and terrestrial and aquatic plants. EPA used the most current risk assessment methods, including an evaluation of the potential effects of glyphosate exposure on animals and plants.
EPA states the proposed interim registration review decision for glyphosate is scheduled to be published in 2019.
This latest EPA announcement is consistent with other determinations concerning glyphosate made by EPA in recent years, including statements made during the Obama Administration. EPA presented its analysis of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) in December 2016. EPA has consistently taken the position that the human health risks from glyphosate are low, and that food and water residues of glyphosate easily satisfy the requirement that they be “safe” for human consumption.
Critics of glyphosate use often focus on the widespread adoption of glyphosate-resistant bioengineered crops. If these genetically modified organism (GMO) crops were not specifically designed for use in conjunction with glyphosate, there would likely be much less discussion about the safety of the herbicide.
Because EPA’s announcement includes a statement that “there is potential for effects on birds, mammals, and terrestrial and aquatic plants,” critics of glyphosate and the associated GMO crops will likely continue to press for restrictions based on the ecological effects of glyphosate. Moreover, there is also likely to be continued controversy concerning the human health effects of glyphosate. Notwithstanding the human health safety findings in this EPA assessment and the other assessments cited in EPA’s statement, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as “probably” carcinogenic to humans. It is thus probable that the controversy concerning glyphosate and the associated GMO crops will continue unabated.
More information on glyphosate issues is available on our blog under key word glyphosate.
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.
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, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala
A noteworthy development in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing and controversial consideration of the potential use of epidemiological data in its pesticide risk assessments occurred on May 25, 2017, when EPA placed in the public dockets for certain organophosphate (OP) pesticides an “update” of the September 15, 2015, Literature Review and Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) determination, along with a response to comments on the original document. These documents were signed by EPA scientists on December 29, 2016, prior to the new Administration, but were placed in the docket only last month, under the new Administration. The documents attempt to rebut the various criticisms of EPA’s assessment of the epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos and the original FQPA safety factor determination for OP pesticides, and they reaffirm the policy embodied in the original Literature Review. Because these new documents were signed in the last days of the Obama Administration, they may be viewed by some industry stakeholders as an effort by some at EPA to “lock in” the prior policy concerning OP pesticides.
The public release of the “updated” Literature Review and response to comments must be considered in the context of the ongoing chlorpyrifos battles that have received significant public attention. During the five months between the date that these “update” documents were signed and the date that EPA placed them in the public docket, EPA Administrator Pruitt issued a decision on March 29, 2017, to deny the petition filed by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos products. See EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos. In his denial decision, Administrator Pruitt concluded it would be appropriate for EPA to defer determining whether chlorpyrifos is likely to cause neurodevelopmental effects at exposure levels below the levels that cause acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition until the completion of the registration review process for chlorpyrifos. Administrator Pruitt based his decision on the premise that “the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved” and that “significant uncertainty … exists regarding the potential for chlorpyrifos to cause adverse neurodevelopmental effects.”
Some industry stakeholders may argue that the decision by the EPA scientists who prepared the “updated” Literature Review which concluded that EPA should retain the 10X FQPA uncertainty factor for OP pesticides can be reconciled with Administrator Pruitt’s subsequent denial decision, because the “updated” FQPA safety factor determination does not preclude further scientific discussion concerning the potential for neurodevelopmental effects from OP pesticide exposures. On the other hand, other industry stakeholders may be concerned about the immediate adverse impact of this “updated” FQPA determination on the risk assessments prepared by EPA for OP pesticides and the measures that will be demanded by EPA to mitigate purported risks.
On April 5, 2017, PANNA and NRDC responded to Administrator Pruitt’s March 29, 2017, decision to deny their petition to revoke the tolerances and cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos by submitting to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a Motion for Further Mandamus Relief. That motion was substantially based on the premise that EPA does not “suggest that it has reconsidered its finding that chlorpyrifos is unsafe.” The briefing on the new mandamus motion was completed on May 5, 2017, several weeks before EPA disclosed the documents concerning the “updated” FQPA determination. Nevertheless, petitioners could try to argue that these documents constitute further evidence supporting their key premise that EPA has not actually revisited its prior determination that chlorpyrifos exposures are unsafe.
The legal and policy issues posed by EPA’s evaluation of the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos and by EPA’s determination that these data create sufficient uncertainty to warrant retention of the FQPA 10X safety factor for all OP pesticides will be a continued source of controversy, and will be watched with interest by all stakeholders.
More information and updates on chlorpyrifos, the epidemiological data, and their surrounding legal issues is available on our blog item under keyword chlorpyrifos.
By Jason E. Johnston, M.S.
On May 31, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the release of its Food Contact Sanitizing Solutions Model (FCSSM), a pesticide risk assessment model that has been developed to “estimate indirect dietary exposure to components of sanitizing solutions used in commercial settings.” EPA states that “the model offers guidance for estimating exposure where there may be inadvertent transfer of residue to edible items prepared or transported on surfaces treated with these pesticides.” The model consists of spreadsheets that automatically calculate dietary exposure and risk estimates based on data entered by the user. The model estimates exposures to antimicrobial active ingredients listed under 40 C.F.R. § 180.940(b) and 40 C.F.R. § 180.940(c), where 940(b) includes uses in dairy processing equipment and food processing equipment and utensils, while 940(c) excludes dairy processing equipment. FCSSM does not apply to active ingredients listed under 40 C.F.R. § 180.940(a), which are used on food contact surfaces in public eating places as well as dairy and food processing equipment. For this case, EPA’s established methodology remains in place. Compared to the simple calculation method used previously for these use scenarios, the major new feature of the FCSSM is the separate calculations of both acute and chronic dietary exposures for the general U.S. population and eight subpopulations. EPA also released a user guide that provides background information on the model and familiarizes users with the inputs required to run the model.
More information about the FCSSM as well as other models used for pesticide risk assessments is available on EPA’s website.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On April 5, 2017, Petitioners Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (Petitioners) filed a Motion for Further Mandamus Relief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals proceedings regarding the chlorpyrifos tolerances. In the motion, Petitioners respond to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) order signed on March 29, 2017, which denied the petition to revoke tolerances. Petitioners state that EPA’s response to the petition (the order) is “no response at all and not what this Court ordered EPA to do,” and asks the court to “grant further mandamus relief, giving EPA 30 days to act on its findings that chlorpyrifos exposures are unsafe and to establish deadlines for the next steps in the revocation and cancellation processes for chlorpyrifos.” Specifically, Petitioners request that the court order EPA to:
- Take regulatory action within 30 days on its finding that chlorpyrifos is unsafe and “make it abundantly clear that what is required within 30 days is final regulatory action based on the neuro-developmental and other risks posed by chlorpyrifos exposures”;
- Resolve objections to its final regulatory action within 60 days, as opposed to “as soon as practicable after receiving the arguments of the parties,” because, Petitioners assert, EPA otherwise may put off their response for a long period of time;
- Require EPA to issue a notice of intent to cancel all chlorpyrifos uses within 60 days, “consistent with its risk assessments and findings that chlorpyrifos is unsafe,” as it has “found drinking water contamination from all chlorpyrifos uses, including nonfood uses, and will need to take regulatory action to end such uses in addition to stopping food uses”; and
- File six-month status reports until the tolerance revocation process and the cancellation proceedings are complete.
It is no surprise that the Petitioners who were disappointed by EPA’s denial of the petition one week ago have now continued their advocacy against the use of chlorpyrifos. As we note in our previous blog item EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos, EPA articulated its reason for the denial as of this time, but this in itself did not articulate its determination that the registration and associated tolerances met the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). EPA’s response to this latest legal skirmish will be of interest, as will the court’s response to it. .
More information on the proceedings is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On March 29, 2017, U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Pruitt signed an order denying the September 2007 petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. This is the latest EPA action in a long and contentious battle concerning chlorpyrifos tolerances and registrations, and is likely not the end of this story.
EPA’s decision denying the petition addresses each of the petition’s ten claims and the history of EPA’s review and responses to those claims. Much attention will be paid to the order’s discussion of three of the claims, which the order states all relate to the same issue: “whether the potential exists for chlorpyrifos to cause neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels below EPA’s existing regulatory standard (10% cholinesterase inhibition).” The order states that because “Congress has provided that EPA must complete registration review by October 1, 2022,” and because EPA has “concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution” on the issues concerning potential neurodevelopmental effects in children, EPA is denying the claims, given the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ August 12, 2016, order that “made clear” that further extensions to the March 31, 2017, deadline for responding to the petition would not be granted. EPA states that the “science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved,” and “further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos.”
The order will become effective as soon as it is published in the Federal Register. More information on the prior proceedings concerning this matter is available on our blog under key phrase chlorpyrifos.
This decision by EPA under the Trump Administration to deny the petition is not surprising, given the rhetoric of reducing regulatory burdens and the need to stop regulatory “overreach” by agencies like EPA which has been accused of making politically driven decisions. EPA's press release captures this, quoting Administrator Pruitt stating (in part): "By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making -- rather than predetermined results.”
EPA has, however, “kicked the can down the road” to some extent on the key science issue -- whether EPA appropriately evaluated epidemiology studies which reported that exposures to the pesticide had adverse neurological impacts on infants and children -- an issue that affects not only chlorpyrifos, but the other organophosphates (OP) that EPA has concluded are subject to a Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X factor based on these studies. (See EPA’s September 15, 2015, Literature Review on Neurodevelopment Effects & FQPA Safety Factor Determination for the Organophosphate Pesticides.)
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) members who reviewed EPA’s approach, based on these studies with regard to chlorpyrifos, generally had concerns with its proposed approach. When EPA nonetheless issued its renewed call for revocation of the tolerances in November 2016, eight days after the Presidential election, it was seen by some as partly (if not fully) driven by a “political” calculus which ignored the lack of support of the FIFRA SAP.
The November 2016 proposal was based on more than the epidemiology studies which have proven controversial. At the same time, EPA’s arguments in the November notice relied on some of the earlier findings about the studies and FIFRA SAP’s review to fashion a “hybrid” approach which, not surprisingly, supported EPA’s previous conclusions.
This has led to charges of “politics over science” on all fronts, but in responding to the court deadline for a final decision by March 31, 2017, EPA has now declared it does indeed need more time to resolve the science issues, and argues that the general registration review process, with the chlorpyrifos review scheduled for 2022, gives EPA more time than what the court imposed. EPA has concluded that if a decision is needed now, the required burdens have not been met to change the current status of the pesticide. The order states:
- Following a review of comments on both the November 2015 proposal and the November 2016 notice of data availability, EPA has concluded that, despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved and that further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos. EPA has therefore concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution on those issues.
EPA has determined it needs more time, however frustrating that may be, to sort out the science. As such, it is allowing chlorpyrifos use to continue, but objections to EPA’s decision are expected by the petitioners who originally pushed for the tolerance revocations. The effect on other OPs with regard to the application of the FQPA uncertainty factor is unclear, at best. The science debate will rage on, with no clear timeline or process for how the ultimate resolution of these questions will be “final.” This political and legal back-and-forth may become the new normal for the Trump Administration as it seeks to balance a more “business friendly” regulatory approach with the stringent requirements of the statutory duties of underlying authorizing legislation across all of EPA’s programs.
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.
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 M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On July 20, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memorandum attaching minutes from the April 19-21, 2016, FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meeting, Transmittal of Meeting Minutes of the April 19-21, 2016 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP or Panel) Meeting Held to Consider and Review Scientific Issues Associated with “Chlorpyrifos: Analysis of Biomonitoring Data.” This SAP was convened to advise EPA regarding the evaluation of biomonitoring chlorpyrifos data from epidemiology studies conducted by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH).
The minutes indicate that the SAP has significant concerns with EPA’s proposal to use the biomonitoring chlorpyrifos data from the CCCEH epidemiology studies to establish a point of departure (PoD) for chlorpyrifos risk assessment. The minutes state: “Because many uncertainties cannot be clarified, the majority of the Panel does not have confidence that the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) cord blood data on chlorpyrifos concentrations can accurately be used in quantitative risk assessment to determine a Point of Departure (PoD).” A major source of uncertainty cited by the FIFRA SAP is “the lack of verification and replication of the analytical chemistry results that reported very low levels of chlorpyrifos (pg/g),” because EPA had to impute a finite quantitative value to “a large fraction of cord blood samples included in the analyses presented with levels below [level of detection (LOD)].” Moreover, some SAP members “thought the quality of the CCCEH data is hard to assess when raw analytical data have not been made available, and the study has not been reproduced.”
The SAP also, however, stated that “both epidemiology and toxicology studies suggest there is evidence for adverse health outcomes associated with chlorpyrifos exposures below levels that result in 10% red blood cell (RBC) acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition (i.e., toxicity at lower doses).” Nevertheless, it agreed with EPA that “applying additional safety factors to the AChE PoDs to account for a possible noncholinergic mode of action (MOA) would be problematic because of challenges in justifying any particular value for such an adjustment.”
Of note, the SAP concluded that it would be appropriate to use a “10X intra-species extrapolation factor” in any analysis based on the cord blood data. It also identified other sources of uncertainty that should be considered in such an analysis, including “the inability of single measures of chlorpyrifos concentration in blood to provide information regarding source, frequency, duration and magnitude of exposure, and how these exposures are linked to specific outcomes measured in the CCCEH study participants.” Although EPA suggested in a Status Report filed in the chlorpyrifos litigation pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 29, 2016, that the FIFRA SAP might recommend a “hybrid approach” that EPA could use in lieu of a PoD based on AChE inhibition, thereby altering the prior EPA analysis for chlorpyrifos, the SAP minutes do not include a recommendation for such a hybrid methodology.
Given the concerns expressed by the SAP regarding EPA’s proposal to derive a PoD from cord blood biomonitoring data collected in the CCCEH epidemiology studies, it may be unlikely that EPA will further pursue this specific approach. It is less clear whether EPA will be inclined to propose any further adjustments to its existing risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, which utilizes a PoD based on animal AChE data, along with intra-species and inter-species uncertainty factors and an additional Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X factor. EPA’s decision to retain the special FQPA factor in its risk assessment for chlorpyrifos will remain controversial, because it is based on an assessment of the value and significance of several epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos that many in the pesticide industry strongly dispute. The discussion in the minutes of the uncertainties resulting from the refusal of the CCCEH investigators to provide underlying raw data may provide further support for arguments by industry that EPA should not predicate risk assessments on the epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos before obtaining and reviewing these data.
More information on the FIFRA SAP and its surrounding legal issues is available in our blog item EPA Requests Six Month Extension of Deadline for Decision on Chlorpyrifos Tolerance Revocation, and more generally on our blog with keyword chlorpyrifos.