Albion Monitor /News

U.S. Firm Exports Hazardous Pesticide

by Haider Rizvi

While it promotes its U.S. image as environmentally conscious

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The U.S.-based Uniroyal Corp. will continue selling a hazardous pesticide to farmers overseas even though the product has been withdrawn from domestic markets for "health and safety reasons."

In a recent agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the company canceled nearly a dozen uses of the pesticide Propargite in the United States. But, the accord does not affect sales of the suspected carcinogen in other countries.

"It depends on the environmental laws and policies of other countries," said Uniroyal spokesman Robert Petrausch when asked if the company has any plans to withdraw its product from foreign markets.

Seeking to promote its image as an environmentally conscious manufacturer, Uniroyal told U.S. farmers it was "acting now to assure consumers that their food supply is healthy and safe."

Prohibited by EPA from selling propargite for use on nearly a dozen crops

Propargite is a widely used pesticide for control of mites on a range of fruit, grain, vegetable, nut and fiber crops.

Currently, millions of farmers in more than 30 countries are using what Uniroyal officials said has become a top-selling miticide. A company spokesman declined to specifically identify client countries -- or sales figures for propargite -- but he hinted that most are in Asia and Latin America.

Environmental groups campaigning here against the export of hazardous pesticides are concerned about the EPA's delay in implementing its policy of notifying other countries about the risks involved in the use of pesticides it has banned in the United States.

The policy was adopted last year in response to pressure from environmental activists, who say the ban on the sale and use of hazardous pesticides will prove to be meaningless if the EPA does not impose export restrictions.

"The health of American consumers will remain at risk because 99 percent of food that is imported by the U.S. remains untested," says Sandra Marquardt, a former environmental researcher at Greenpeace International.

U.S. laws do not restrict shipment of hazardous pesticides to other countries. Customs records obtained by the Foundation for Advancement in Science and Education, a Los Angeles-based independent environmental research group, indicate that from 1991-94, the U.S. chemical companies had shipped 52 million tons of hazardous pesticides to about a dozen of Third World countries.

Its recent agreement with EPA prohibits Uniroyal from selling propargite for use on nearly a dozen crops -- including apricots, apples, peaches, pears, plums, figs, strawberries, and green beans -- because of its cancer-causing potential.

After a decade of research, the EPA concluded that certain uses of Propargite pose "clearly unacceptable dietary cancer risk to consumers."

But Uniroyal denies that its product is dangerous. "Our research shows that Propargite is acceptable for use on those (banned) crops," said Petrausch, although he admitted the research "is not yet completed."

Potential dangers include damage to the nervous system as well as cancer

Evidence of the acute and chronic health risks posed by Propargite, which was registered for U.S. use in 1969, emerged from a series of experiments on laboratory rats, which contracted a rare form of cancer.

Experts say the risks posed by Propargite to human health were first evidenced in 1986 when 114 California farm workers fell victim to acute dermatitis after being exposed while picking oranges.

Both independent and EPA scientists say infants and children are especially vulnerable to the potential dangers of exposure to Propargite-treated food products, which include damage to the nervous system, as well as cancer.

"Exposure to neurotoxic compounds at levels believed to be safe for adults could result in permanent loss of brain function if it occurred during the early childhood period of brain development," warns a study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Despite banning a dozen uses, the EPA-Uniroyal agreement still allows the company to continue production and distribution of Propargite for use on nearly 30 other crops, including grapes, cotton, grapes, watermelon, and potatoes.

Critical of the agreement, the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), an umbrella organization comprising 700 environmental groups, says EPA should ban the use of propargite on all crops, without any exception.

"There are a number of chemical alternatives available for Propargite. The EPA knows this. It must immediately repeal all kinds of uses," says Fern Shepard, an attorney with the Sierra Club Defense Fund, an environmental group that is leading the legal fight against the use of Propargite.

Critics point out that chemical controls exacerbate mite problems because they often kill off natural predators. The NCAMP says the EPA crops protection policies should center on "cultural practices," such as irrigation, and biological controls rather than depend on the use of toxic chemicals.

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Albion Monitor May 5, 1996 (

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