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Proposed carbofuran ban supported by science

Jennifer Sass

Posted February 11, 2008

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Over a meeting lasting four days last week, a panel of scientific experts reviewed the data underlying the US Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to ban all domestic uses of carbofuran (trade name Furadan), a nasty war-era pesticide manufactured by FMC Corporation.  EPA cancelled domestic uses because it posed unacceptably high risks to birds, wildlife, and worker health. The Scientific Advisory Panel had to review a lot of last-minute FMC-supplied data, and found most of it inadequate, unconvincing, and highly suspect. One panel member opined that the company's misrepresentation of the data alone may be grounds to reject it (seriously!). Smackdown, FMC! (I'd be rich now if I only had a nickel for ever time I had that thought while reviewing unpublished industry science!!)

Generally, pesticide manufacturers prefer to voluntarily cancel high risk products, or voluntarily withdraw high risks uses, rather than have EPA issue a ban on those products.  This is because an actual ban triggers Prior Informed Consent (PIC) requirements that other countries are informed of the ban. This is, of course, bad for business. So, companies prefer to just quietly withdraw the product from the US market, and then slither away to promote their foreign sales. This case is unusual, because FMC is refusing to slither, prefering instead to take a public lashing....and, they got it from the panel of scientific experts. Even EPA technical experts rebutted the FMC data with ease. (Apparently, seeding a field with 300 dead birds and then finding them isn't a valid test of how good a study is at locating dead birds. Seems that 'real' poisoned birds crawl under ground-cover and hide themselves to die, so when FMC couldn't find any dead birds in carbofuran-treated fields it probably wasn't because carbofuran is safe. Oh well, better luck next time, FMC).

NRDC strongly supports the proposed ban, which will require the phase-out over several years of all its domestic uses (corn, cotton, potatoes, sunflowers, and some minor crop uses). However, EPA is allowing carbofuran on four food imports: rice, coffee, sugarcane, and bananas. NRDC is fighting for cancelling these uses too, to discourage the company from selling its chemical oversees. 

Carbofuran belongs to the chemical family of N-methyl carbamate pesticides that are among the most toxic category of pesticides.  The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) provided by the manufacturer (FMC Corp) for carbofuran warns that “Effects from overexposure result from either swallowing, inhaling or coming into contact with the eyes or skin. Conditions of increased temperature and humidity may aid skin absorption of this product and, therefore, increase toxicity. Symptoms of overexposure include headache, light-headedness, weakness, abdominal cramps, nausea, excessive salivation, perspiration, blurred vision, tearing, pin-point pupils, blue skin color, convulsions, tremor and coma.” This is a typical description of the health effects of all the carbamate pesticides.

A press release from the American Bird Conservancy points out that an EPA Special Review in 1980 estimated that over a million birds were killed each year by the granular formulation of carbofuran. According to scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service there are "no known conditions under which carbofuran can be used without killing migratory birds. Many of these die-off incidents followed applications of carbofuran that were made with extraordinary care." The granular formation was cancelled in 1994, but the liquid form remains on the market.

Hold your ground, EPA! Be brave, cancel the nasty old war-era chemicals like carbofuran. That's why you are called the 'Environmental Protection Agency', and not the, 'Let Toxic Chemicals Poison our World Agency'.



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Barry CastlemanFeb 12 2008 11:01 AM

It is interesting to see industry pushing this hard line at the close of the Bush/Cheney regime -- and at the same time see the EPA career professionals as well as outside experts on the EPA Science Advisory Board (which has been closely monitored by NRDC and other NGOs) take the gloves off and hoot at the shoddiness of the scientific reports the company sent in. The dedicated career professionals at EPA have been persecuted but have not all been forced out, and this "brain trust" (as it was called by NRDC in fighting EPA budget cuts) has been a backstop holding the line against political machinations at EPA in other areas in
addition to pesticides, such as asbestos.

Md. Mahbubar RahmanFeb 21 2008 04:44 AM

Dear Jennifer Sass,

This is my first visit to your site. I specially thank Jinneae Economos of Farmworker Association of Florida, who redirected your write-up to me. This is really highly appreciable that you are fighting against this highly toxic chemical, which falls under WHO Class 1 but because of its low concentrate granular formulation, it falls in Class II and is permitted, and thus is used in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, it is not used in liquid form, which is surprisingly used in USA. But I agree with you very much that we must not allow even its Granular formulation in Bangladesh. I just want to mention a short story. Just a month back I went to my village. One my nephew (still student) rears pigeon partly as a hobby, and partly as a source of income to meet his personal expenses. I found him gloomy this time. I asked him "why do you look so gloomy? How is your pigeon rearing?" He looked more gloomy and once started crying saying that 12 of his pigeons recently had been killed by Furadan when they visited a furadan treated field. He added, very often he was loosing one or two pigeons. Another story is that recently, in an area of Jessore, 300 crows had been found dead. This death is still being thought to be due to Bird's Flue virus because recently Bangladesh is having incidence of bird's flue. But this has not been investigated in the dead crows. I assume the crows' death might be due to furadan because furadan is seriously used in those areas. There are also several reports of bird's incidental death in Bangladesh. Your write-up has opened a new direction of my thought. We must stop the use of furadan but we have to face serious challenge because furadan is a number one pesticide in Bangladesh in terms of use (quantity and major crops)and popularity. However, this will be easier if EPA bans it or restricts its use. EPA must take this as their challenge to protect the environment and to protect the wildlife and to protect the human health.

Dr. Md. Mahbubar Rahman
Professor (Pesticide Toxilogy)
Department of Entomology
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU),
Gazipur, Bangladesh
Cell: 01911-340387
Phone: 880-2-9205310-14, extension 2086

Jennifer SassFeb 21 2008 07:22 AM

Thank you so much for your comments, Professor Rahman. It is heartening to hear of your efforts in Banladesh, and I will look forward to joining our efforts together to ban these toxic chemicals world-wide. Best regards, to you and your colleagues!

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