EPA sets wildlife protections on 3 pesticides

By Marc Heller | 07/01/2022 01:19 PM EDT

Conservation measures for chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon will reduce exposure to endangered species, EPA said in allowing their continued use.

Almond tree.

The sun peeks past almonds growing on the branches of an almond tree in 2019 in Modesto, Calif. EPA today finalized new restrictions on three commonly used pesticides. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

EPA has set new restrictions on the use of three commonly used pesticides, including the highly controversial chemical chlorpyrifos.

In adopting new conservation measures to be required on labels, the environmental agency allows the continued use of chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon in various settings. The final decision follows a final biological opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service that found potential threats to endangered species that could be addressed through additional restrictions.

“These measures will not only protect listed species but will reduce potential exposure and ecological effects in these areas whenever malathion, chlorpyrifos and diazinon are used,” the agency said in a news release yesterday. EPA takes about 18 months to approve amended labels from product registrants, the agency said.


Farmers and others have used the chemicals — from a class called organophosphates — for a variety of insect pests on various crops. EPA ended the use of chlorpyrifos, linked to brain damage in children, on food crops in February, although it’s still allowed for other uses like mosquito control.

All the pesticides are highly toxic to mammals, fish and aquatic invertebrates, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries. EPA consulted both agencies on the biological opinion as required by federal law.

Among the new limits, diazinon can no longer be applied from the air, and chlorpyrifos can’t be applied over wide areas for the control of ants, for instance.

Other conservation measures are aimed at keeping pesticides out of water, and reducing the overall load of the chemicals at any time.

Without additional limitations, NOAA Fisheries said, the chemicals would pose dangers to species and their habitats.

“Current application rates and application methods are expected to produce aquatic concentrations of all three pesticides that are likely to harm aquatic species as well as contaminate their designated critical habitats,” NOAA Fisheries said in the biological opinion. “Species and their prey residing in shallow aquatic habitats proximal to pesticide use sites are expected to be the most at risk.”

Groups such as the Center for Food Safety have urged heavier restrictions or outright bans, as the CFS did for malathion in comments to NOAA Fisheries earlier this year. The group also knocked the administration for a proposed system in which producers would use a “pick list” to select methods they’ll follow to reduce risks to wildlife.

Far simpler label instructions on pesticides are either ineffective or not followed, the group said.

The latest measures don’t address human health risks, which EPA evaluates through a separate process. Those dangers have fueled the debate over chlorpyrifos, with many congressional Republicans saying a ban deprives farmers of an important pest management tool (E&E News PM, April 25).

The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee this week approved report language on its proposed fiscal 2023 spending bill for EPA that backs restrictions on chlorpyrifos.

“The Committee accepts the findings from numerous studies establishing the link between the use of chlorpyrifos and brain damage in children,” says the report, which accompanies the bill. “The Agency is expected to meet its obligations to protect human health and the environment.”