Quantcast

EPA Limits Use of Problematic Herbicide Dicamba—But Is That Enough?

GMO
PBouman / Shutterstock

By Dan Nosowitz

Dicamba has been in use as a local pesticide for decades, but it's only recently that Monsanto has taken to using it in big, new ways. The past two years have seen the rollout of dicamba-resistant seed for soybean and cotton, as well as a new way to apply it: broad spraying.

But dicamba, it turns out, has a tendency to vaporize and drift with the wind, and it if lands on a farm that hasn't planted Monsanto's dicamba-resistant seed, the pesticide will stunt and kill crops in a very distinctive way, with a telltale cupping and curling of leaves, as seen above. Drift from dicamba has affected millions of acres of crops, prompting multiple states to issue temporary bans on the pesticide. Farmers have been taking sides, either pro-dicamba or anti, and at least one farmer has been killed in a dispute over its use.


Following reports that dicamba has drifted into forestland and is harming trees, too, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action. According to a statement from the EPA, manufacturers selling dicamba pesticide—that's Monsanto and German agrochemical firm BASF, right now—will have to take new steps to attempt to avoid drift. Dicamba will now be listed as a "restricted-use pesticide." Here's what that means, in the EPA's words:

RUPs are not available for purchase or use by the general public. RUPs have the potential to cause unreasonable adverse effects to the environment and injury to applicators or bystanders without added restrictions. The "Restricted Use" classification restricts a product, or its uses, to use by a certified applicator or someone under the certified applicator's direct supervision.

In the case of dicamba, the new label will limit the times when dicamba can be applied (for example, when it's windy), and will restrict application to only those who have undergone special training.

Placement on the RUP list isn't a ban. It's incredibly far from a ban; the second-most popular pesticide in the U.S., atrazine, is on that list. In a statement to Reuters, a Monsanto vice president noted that the restrictions are not only voluntary but were proposed by Monsanto.

The restrictions are in line with what Monsanto's party-line defense of dicamba: the pesticide itself is not dangerous when applied correctly. Farmers, for their part, say following the 4,500-word directions is insanely difficult, and lawsuits have alleged that Monsanto encouraged farmers to use older, even more dangerous dicamba products before the newer versions were released.

Even with these new rules, there's also the possibility that dicamba is just…incredibly dangerous. Some authorities have noted that the restrictions do not address the fact that it vaporizes in the first place; that that is its inherent danger. Denise O'Brien, chair of the Pesticide Action Network board, a coalition of groups fighting adverse effects from pesticides, told us this:

These new restrictions don't do nearly enough to address the problem of dicamba drift damage. Farmers and others will continue to be hurt by dicamba drift with these weak rules that give the false impression that EPA is doing something to address dicamba drift. A drift-prone herbicide like dicamba should never have been let on to the market in the first place. Monsanto and other corporations have put farmers in this position, but so far they have not been held accountable for the problems caused by their products.

We've reached out to Monsanto for a comment and will update if we hear back.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less
Jennifer A. Smith / Moment / Getty Images

By Brenda Ekwurzel

When temperatures hit the 80s Fahrenheit in May above latitude 40, sun-seekers hit the parks, lakes, and beaches, and thoughts turn to summer. By contrast, when temperatures lurk in the drizzly 40s and 50s well into flower season, northerners get impatient for summer. But when those 80-degree temperatures visit latitude 64 in Russia, as they just did, and when sleet disrupts Mother's Day weekend in May in Massachusetts, as it just did, thoughts turn to: what is going on here?

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Shrimp fishing along the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

By Paula Ezcurra and Octavio Aburto

Thousands of hydroelectric dams are under construction around the world, mainly in developing countries. These enormous structures are one of the world's largest sources of renewable energy, but they also cause environmental problems.

Read More Show Less
Activists in North Dakota confront pipeline construction activities. A Texas bill would impose steep penalties for such protests. Speak Freely / ACLU

By Eoin Higgins

A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.

Read More Show Less
An Australian flag flutters in the wind in a dry drought-ridden landscape. Virginia Star / Moment / Getty Images

Australia re-elected its conservative governing Liberal-National coalition Saturday, despite the fact that it has refused to cut down significantly on greenhouse gas emissions or coal during its time in power, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Tree lined street, UK. Richard Newstead / Moment / Getty Images

The UK government will fund the planting of more than 130,000 trees in English towns and cities in the next two years as part of its efforts to fight climate change, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less
A tropical storm above Bangkok on Aug. 04, 2016. Hristo Rusev/ NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.

Read More Show Less
orn_france / iStock / Getty Images

By Susan McCabe, BSc, RD

Dioscorea alata is a species of yam commonly referred to as purple yam, ube, violet yam, or water yam.

Read More Show Less