CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Environmental Protection Agency is two-thirds of the way through its congressionally-mandated reassessment of all registered pesticides and tolerances, an agency official says.

A requirement of the Food Quality Protection Act, the EPA has a 10-year timeframe for accomplishing the monumental task.

And, says Adam Sharp, associate assistant administrator for the agency's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, "We're right on schedule. The deadline for completing the second one-third of the list was Aug. 3, which we met.

"One of the top goals of (EPA Administrator) Christie Whitman has been to meet all these deadlines, and I believe we'd done so in a reasonable enough way that it hasn't had any major impact on agriculture."

That is not to say there haven't been "some areas and some crops that have presented challenges," he told members of the Southern Crop Production Association at their annual conference at Charleston. "Most of those, however, were related to indoor and home use pesticides rather than agricultural uses.

"Ag uses have remained pretty much intact. I think the science has progressed enough, and the work the EPA has done with the USDA to develop better exposure information through the various databases that the USDA provides has helped tremendously — as has the work the crop protection industry has done to provide information.

"We still have a ways to go; there's still another one-third of the list to complete by 2006, but we're moving forward in a timely fashion."

Some groups have charged, Sharp said, that the EPA evaluated the easiest products first and avoided the riskier ones.

"But, I think we did do the riskiest first. More than 60 percent of the organophosphates, carbamates, and carcinogens have been completed — and that's right on the money in terms of what's required in the law."

The biggest challenge remaining, he said, is to "sort out some of the cumulative risk assessment questions. We put out a revised version of that this summer. We thought it a good document, reflecting good science, and it raised a lot of good questions.

"But, at the same time, it showed that our food supply is safe, that cumulative pesticide residues for the organophosphates wasn't an issue that requires the cancellation of products or uses at this time."

There are still several organophosphate materials working their way through individual risk assessments, Sharp said, "but the bulk of the OPs has been completed."

The EPA's Science Advisory Panel has issued a report with several suggestions regarding the assessment of the cumulative effects of OPs, he noted, and "we're still interpreting the report.

"We've heard from some groups that the report should take a tougher stance on the safety factor provisions of the Food Quality Protection Act and apply additional safety factors.

"But, there are a number of very important critical studies that the companies are working on that will be coming to the agency over the course of the next year, that I think will answer many of the questions these folks are raising."

Looking at cumulative risk, Sharp said, "there were only a couple of products and a handful of uses that posed any risk, even at the highest percentile of exposure. Ninety percent or more of the OPs and their uses showed no issues at all — and I think that's good news."

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com.