To date, it remains the largest case of pesticide food poisoning documented in North America.
Richard Jackson, who was a top official in California’s health department at the time of the watermelon poisonings, testified at a U.S. Senate hearing back in 1991 that aldicarb posed a health risk to children and that regulations offered an inadequate margin of safety.
“It is good the revocation is happening; it is a shame it took 20 years,” said Jackson, now chair of environmental health sciences at UCLA.
Dr. Lynn Goldman, an environmental health professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, also welcomed the agreement, noting that aldicarb has been under special review at the EPA for more than 25 years.
“It is good to see that EPA and Bayer have now reached an agreement to phase out the remaining uses,” Goldman said Tuesday.
Goldman was an epidemiologist with California’s health department when the outbreak occurred.
“As a state health official, I wanted to see stronger action on aldicarb,” she said, adding that she and Jackson “recommended that aldicarb be banned in California, because of its potency and what seemed to be a large temptation for misuse. We obviously did not prevail.”
Aldicarb was the first of the so-called “dirty dozen” pesticides that an environmental group, Pesticide Action Network North America, targeted in 1985 for worldwide ban. At the time, it was found in bananas and in well water on Long Island, NY.
Scholl-Buckwald said that the EPA relies mostly on voluntary agreements, instead of bans, to avoid lawsuits from manufacturers.
“The system is designed to leave things like this on the market as long as possible. It’s innocent until proven guilty. It’s really unconscionable that it takes literally decades to do this,” he said.
Goldman in 1993 was named EPA assistant administrator overseeing pesticide programs, but she said Tuesday that even then, her efforts to restrict aldicarb were hamstrung by insufficient scientific evidence at the time and a weak pesticide law. She said she faced “the need to exercise due process in making sure that the company producing the chemical had a fair hearing.”Years later, in 2007, the EPA concluded that there were “potential human health risks” from drinking-water contamination, as well as risks to birds and other wildlife. But the agency approved its continued use with added precautions, such as increased setbacks between fields and water wells and reduced amounts applied to crops.
Then, this month, the EPA revised its analysis using new toxicity data and determined that current uses meant babies and young children were at risk of being exposed to levels in water and food that exceeded the agency’s level of concern.
Aldicarb residues are found in grapefruit, oranges, orange juice, potatoes, frozen French fries and sweet potatoes. It already has been banned in bananas because of the potential for high exposure in children.
In the new analysis, children’s exposure from drinking water was estimated based on aldicarb use at cotton and peanut farms in Georgia.
“Potatoes, citrus and water are the greatest contributors to the aldicarb exposure,” the EPA document says.
Bayer researchers recently reported that water contamination has been minimal. They analyzed 1,673 drinking-water wells that were within 300 meters of fields treated with aldicarb, which has the trade name Temik, and found that none violated the EPA’s health advisory limit.
“For nearly 40 years, Temik has provided farmers with unsurpassed control of destructive pests, without compromising human health or environmental safety,” Bill Buckner, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience, said in a statement Tuesday.