THE BLOG

New Study Sounds Latest Alarm About Need to Put Health Before Pesticide Profits

03/31/2015 03:08 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

You don't have to be a highly trained scientist to see the long-term environmental costs of dumping more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides on the American landscape annually.

School kids across America are witnessing the alarming 90 percent decline in monarch butterflies that, not surprisingly, has been linked to an equally alarming increase in the use of glyphosate, the pesticide widely known as Roundup, that kills milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food source.

What leading scientists are seeing is equally clear: There's a growing body of research linking pesticides to environmental harm and health issues.

The latest evidence was delivered this week in a new report from the World Health Organization revealing that glyphosate and two insecticides, malathion and diazinon, are "probably carcinogenic to humans." The report is the work of experts from 11 countries, who found an increased risk of cancer and of DNA and chromosomal damage with use of glyphosate and the two insecticides.

This report is troubling because the use of glyphosate has increased to more than 250 million pounds per year in the U.S with the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops such as corn and soy. The pesticide's residues are now found on 90 percent of soybean crops.

The EPA last conducted a basic risk assessment of glyphosate in 1993. In the ensuing two decades researchers have raised questions about the pesticide's potential health risks. Last year the Dutch government banned all non-agricultural uses of glyphosate and countries in Europe and Latin America are considering bans.

Yet, even as evidence of pesticide risks increases, U.S. regulators have not only been slow to limit the use of these toxics, they have continued to approve the use of powerful new pesticides.

Just four months ago the EPA approved of a brand new cocktail of pesticides known as Enlist Duo - a combination of glyphosate and one of America's favorite herbicides, 2,4-D - a World War II-era poison.

Thanks to the EPA's fast-track approval the new weed-killer is already coming to fields in Illinois and five other states and is likely to soon be approved in 10 additional Midwest and Great Plains states, from Minnesota to Arkansas.

Although pesticide manufactures herald the new pesticide as a solution to the weed-resistance now endemic to half the states, we know the chemical war on weeds always results in more weed-resistance, more pesticide use and more environmental harm.

Not surprisingly, the Agriculture Department estimates Enlist Duo's approval will increase the use of 2,4-D more than three-fold just in the next six years.

The environmental and health risks of Enlist Duo have been downplayed by EPA. But that's hardly reassuring given the agency has done minimal assessments of the risks associated with the billions of pounds of pesticides dumped on the nation's fields, gardens and lawns in recent years.

As this week's W.H.O. report indicates, U.S. regulators would be well-served to start prioritizing the nation's health and safety over protecting corporate profits.

All the news isn't bad. The conservation group where I work as a biologist and lawyer recently reached a settlement requiring the EPA to analyze the impacts of malathion and diazinon on endangered species. We also filed a petition last year to protect monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act because of the population declines associated with glyphosate. And we've challenged a recent EPA approval of the increased use of glyphosate that inadequately addressed the impacts to endangered wildlife.

What we know without question is that despite this mounting evidence, the EPA is approving the use of more and more pesticides.

It only makes sense that it's time we start demanding better answers as to how that could possibly be better for the long-term health of the landscapes and waterways that all life depends on.