The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has discovered that two groups of common pesticides, generally considered to be "safer" chemicals, are responsible for one quarter of reported human pesticide poisonings, based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) own data. CPI spent several years demanding the release of the data through repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. A trade association representing the interests of the consumer specialty products industry denounced the report....
The CPI report, Perils of the New Pesticides, analyzes the number of reported human health problems, including severe reactions and deaths, linked to two families of pesticides, pyrethrins and pyrethroids, over the past decade....Pesticides made with these chemicals are found in thousands of common household products such as flea and tick poisons, ant and roach killers, delousing shampoos, lawn-care products, and carpet sprays.
The data reveal that reported incidents of fatal, major, and moderate exposures to the two classes of pesticides increased 300 percent since 1998...[and] accounted for more incidents than any other class of pesticide over the last five years. The EPA's reporting system receives up to 6,000 reports of pesticide exposures annually....
As a result of the investigation, the director of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs said the agency this year would begin a broad study of the human health effects of these chemicals and examine further any trends. According to CPI, the EPA originally had not planned to review the data until 2010....
CPI produced its analysis using EPA's Pesticide Incident Data System, an aggregation of more than 90,000 pesticide exposure incidents from 1992 through 2007. The data system has been regarded by right-to-know advocates as one of the most important databases to which public access was restricted. The database made the 1999 Top Ten Most Wanted Government Documents list produced by the Center for Democracy and Technology and OMB Watch. After repeated efforts to obtain information under FOIA, the agency finally released the database in early 2008....
Some problems are complicated but this one seems pretty simple. Public health is more important than pesticide industry profits. The EPA is a government agency dedicated to the public interest, not a trade association dedicated to the protection of an industry. The EPA already had the data on the harms caused by these pesticides, but it wasn't releasing them, even to those who went to the trouble of demanding them under Freedom of Information Act. The solution: release the data. Make the data OA automatically and immediately. As a nation, we're moving in this direction for clinical drug trial data. Let's do the same for pesticide data. Let's do the same for all data collected by the government on the safety of foods, drugs, environmental contaminants, and consumer products.
I commend the EPA for waking up to the problem once CPI pointed it out. But how does the agency explain its failure to disclose the data in the first place and its resistance to the FOIA requests? Didn't we have a right to expect that the EPA would notice and act on the information it collected, all by itself? Should we have to wait for the heroic non-profit investigative reporters at the CPI to unearth the information from the agency's own database?
Peter Suber at 8/06/2008 01:33:00 PM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.