EPA is releasing its preliminary assessment of the cumulative risks of organophosphate pesticides and is seeking both scientific peer review and widespread public comment on the scientific methodologies used to develop the risk assessment.
These risk assessment techniques represent an advance in EPA's ability to evaluate pesticides, the agency said in a press release. The new methodologies, developed over the past five years, allow EPA to evaluate potential exposures to multiple pesticides, taking into account food, drinking water and residential uses.
A public comment period on the techniques is open through March 8, 2002.
“Developing and applying the scientific methodologies to perform a cumulative pesticide risk assessment represent a major step forward in EPA's ability to evaluate the safety of pesticides,” said Stephen L. Johnson, assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances. “Because this is the first time for EPA to apply these new methods together, we are not yet ready to draw firm conclusions about the pesticides in this initial evaluation.
“EPA expects, and will welcome, a robust public comment period to help us fine-tune the risk assessment. This type of analysis will add significantly to our understanding of pesticide exposure, and with these tools we will continue to ensure that the United States has the safest, most abundant food supply in the world,” Johnson added.
The preliminary report EPA released for public review examines one category of pesticides — the organophosphate insecticides — as a group because they are chemically similar and act the same way in the body. The agency said it has already taken action to significantly reduce risk from exposure to individual organophosphates.
The preliminary cumulative risk assessment considers potential exposures to 31 organophosphates through food, drinking water and residential uses. Residential uses include pesticide applications in and around homes, schools, public buildings, golf courses, parks, public health-related uses and other areas where people may come in contact with pesticide residues.
Johnson said the new methodologies evaluate potential exposures for different age groups and take into account the variability in potential exposure at different locations across the country and at different times of the year. EPA relied on a large variety of data sources, such as monitoring data that measure pesticide residues found in food to obtain the most realistic estimates of actual exposure to the population from organophosphate pesticides.
“Until EPA solicits external scientific peer review and incorporates any necessary revisions, it is premature to draw conclusions about specific risks or to consider potential risk management actions,” said Johnson.
“EPA remains confident in the overall safety of the nation's food supply and continues to emphasize the importance of eating a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables,” said Johnson. “EPA's analysis indicates that drinking water appears not to be a major contributor to risk. Although most indoor uses of organophosphate pesticides have been eliminated through earlier risk reduction actions, remaining uses may be re-evaluated.”
To gain public and scientific peer review on these innovative methodologies, EPA is continuing to seek guidance and input from the scientific community and other interested stakeholders about the initial findings, the scientific methods used in the assessment and any revisions and refinements that may be necessary.
Following consideration of comment from the public and SAP (an advisory committee of independent scientific expert peer reviewers), EPA intends to issue a revised cumulative risk assessment by August 2002. The release of the preliminary cumulative risk assessment is an important step toward meeting the statutory goal called for in the Food Quality Protection Act of reassessing 66 percent of pesticide food tolerances by August 2002.
The risk assessment documents are available at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides. In the near future, EPA is planning to post on this web page the actual data used to conduct this assessment.