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U.S. Annually Uses 388 Million Pounds of Potentially Fatal Pesticides Banned in the EU, China and Brazil

Health + Wellness
Workers spray toxic pesticides on a corn plantation. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images
When it comes to banning harmful pesticides, the U.S. lags behind the European Union (E.U.), China and Brazil, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health. Eighty-five pesticides currently in use across the country have been banned or are in the process of being phased out in the three nations, in large part due to their harmful impact on human health or the environment.

In all, that means that about one-in-ten American-used pesticides contain ingredients that are either banned, not approved or have an otherwise unknown status in the E.U., China and Brazil. Many of these pesticides have been linked to acute poisoning in the U.S., some of which are considered highly poisonous in high dosages and have been connected to lung damage, convulsions, respiratory failure, coma and even death.

"It's appalling the U.S. lags so far behind these major agricultural powers in banning harmful pesticides," said study author Nathan Donley, who is affiliated with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The fact that we're still using hundreds of millions of pounds of poisons other nations have wisely rejected as too risky spotlights our dangerously lax approach to phasing out hazardous pesticides."

The study focused on 13 pesticides that are currently approved in the U.S. but banned in at least two of the three other leading agricultural economics, though the researchers compared the approval status of a total of more than 500 pesticides used in outdoor applications. Of the 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides used across the nation in 2016, 322 million pounds had been banned or were being phased out in the E.U., compared with 40 million pounds in China and 26 million in Brazil.

"The USA is generally regarded as being highly regulated and having protective pesticide safeguards in place. This study contradicts that narrative and finds that in the last couple of decades, nearly all pesticide cancellations in the USA have been done voluntarily by the pesticide industry," said Donley. "Without a change in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) current reliance on voluntary mechanisms for cancellations, the USA will likely continue to lag behind its peers in banning harmful pesticides."

Though states like California and Washington have taken individual action towards the banning of certain pesticides, a majority of those still in use across much of the U.S. had not decreased in the last 25 years or had even stayed the same or increased in the last decade. Generally speaking, the studied pesticides are used to kill "problem" weeds, an issue that occurs in all four of the nation-states but doesn't explain why they are still so prevalent across the country.

Donley argues this lag in banning has to do with deficiencies in the pesticide regulatory process. Though the EPA is given authority to ban pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the majority of cancellations comes from voluntary decisions made by pesticide producers following economic outcomes rather than in response to human or environmental health.

"Bans are the most effective way to prevent exposures to highly hazardous pesticides and can spur the transition to safer alternatives," said Donley. "A combination of weak laws and the EPA's broken pesticide regulatory process has allowed the pesticide industry to dictate which pesticides stay in use. That process undermines the safety of agricultural workers and anyone who eats food and drinks water in this country."

Since 1970, more than 500 pesticides have been used. Just 134 of those have been cancelled due to their harmful nature, and less than one-third of those were prohibited by the EPA.

The study is quick to advise that it did not compare the effectiveness of pesticide regulation between nations and may not accurately reflect other safeguards that may protect consumers against the harmful effects of pesticides, such as restrictions on pesticide labels.


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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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