Toxic Spring: The Capriciousness of Cost-Benefit Analysis Under FIFRA's Pesticide Registration Process and Its Effect on Farmworkers

Li, Danica
October 2015
California Law Review;Oct2015, Vol. 103 Issue 5, p1405
Academic Journal
Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must conduct a cost-benefit analysis to ascertain whether a pesticide may be sold on the market. This analysis weighs the benefits of using the pesticide against the costs imposed by the pesticide's negative effects, such as health consequences for farmworkers, wild life, consumers, or the environment more generally. Critically, under this analysis, the EPA may not remove pesticides shown to pose "unreasonable adverse risks" to affected parties from the market if the counterbalancing costs of removing those pesticides are too burdensome to industry. As illustrated by the recent litigation over the pesticide Azinphos-methyl, or AZM, this approach poses serious health risks for those most directly impacted by pesticide regulation: not the consumers whose most substantial encounter with pesticides involves scrubbing pesticidal residues from their store-bought apples under the faucet, but the farmworkers who apply the chemicals in the fields daily and live in pesticide-saturated environments with their children. In the case of AZM, the EPA determined that individuals exposed to the pesticide were at greater risk of suffering neurotoxic harm and that children in particular endured developmental disabilities at greater frequencies. Yet, because immediately prohibiting the usage of AZM would have subtracted what the EPA estimated to be millions of dollars from the agricultural industry's bottom line, the EPA concluded that immediate cancellation of the pesticide was not justified and that AZM was to be phased out over a period of six years. This outcome condoned continued farmworker exposure to a chemical with known toxic effects at levels that would not have been tolerated in other regulatory environments. This Comment argues that the reliability of cost-benefit analysis employed by the EPA, far from being a clear-cut exercise in the weighing of discrete items against one another, too easily erodes in the face of political imperatives, uncertain or unquantifiable public health benefits, and the limits of empiricism and the generation of scientific knowledge itself. The Comment begins by surveying the literature on the health risks of pesticide exposure and explaining the particular vulnerabilities of farmworker communities to under-regulation and pesticide-related health problems. Then, it explores the rationale that underlaid the EPA's decision in the AZM controversy and argues that the decision likely overestimated the benefits of continued pesticide usage to growers and underestimated harms to workers. The Comment concludes by endorsing a more stringent regulatory model, one that uses cost-benefit analysis only in limited circumstances. Such a standard is consistent with the precautionary principle of regulation, which advocates taking action against threatened harm to individuals and ecosystems even in the absence of full scientific certainty. In particular, this Comment argues for a system of regulation that more closely approximates California's regulatory scheme, which considers benefits in the registration process only in limited circumstances. It also argues that the EPA should adopt a number of novel regulatory strategies implemented by the European system of pesticide regulation: Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH)--in short, a system that, inter alia, incentivizes the substitution of alternatives for suspect chemicals and requires informational disclosures as a way to activate market pressures on companies.


Related Articles

  • Panel reviews regulation of new RNA technology.  // Western Farm Press Exclusive Insight;2/4/2014, p1 

    The article reports on the gathering of a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Science Advisory Panel (SAP) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate the genetic technology, RNA interference (RNAi).

  • In the Federal Agencies.  // Environmental Law Reporter: News & Analysis;Apr2014, Vol. 44 Issue 4, p10331 

    The article offers information on several rules released by various federal agencies in the U.S. One final rule offered is the authorization of the California Air Recources Board's request to amend the regulations on emission standards and test procedures for off-highway recreational vehicles...

  • Notices: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY.  // Federal Register (National Archives & Records Service, Office of;3/26/2014, Vol. 79 Issue 58, p16791 

    The article offers information on public notices issued by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as of March 26, 2014. Topics include the EPA announcement regarding the availability for public comment of draft guidance documents on screening methodology of pesticide's health aspects,...

  • ERA postpones glyphosate panel in face of ag industry criticism. Laws, Forrest // Delta Farm Press;10/28/2016, Vol. 73 Issue 41, p6 

    The article reports on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) postponement of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) scheduled in the week of October 18-21, 2016, after CropLife America accused panel member Peter Infante of being biased...

  • Part XVI: Environmental Protection Agency.  // Federal Register (National Archives & Records Service, Office of;6/13/2014, Vol. 79 Issue 114, p34115 

    The article presents information on the semiannual regulatory flexibility aggenda and semiannual regulatory aggenda of the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. Topics discussed include the Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act (CWA), and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act...

  • Notices: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY.  // Federal Register (National Archives & Records Service, Office of;1/24/2014, Vol. 79 Issue 16, p4158 

    The article reports notices issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It presents a weekly receipt of environmental impact statements filed under the 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1506.9. It offers the names, addresses, professional affiliations, and selected biographical...

  • Notices: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY.  // Federal Register (National Archives & Records Service, Office of;6/4/2014, Vol. 79 Issue 107, p32284 

    The article presents notices from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning on proposed interim decisions on pesticide registrations. It states that EPA's requesting for comments on the proposed interim decisions on pesticide registrations which aims to ensure the safety use and...

  • Notices: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY.  // Federal Register (National Archives & Records Service, Office of;1/22/2014, Vol. 79 Issue 14, p3586 

    The article presents a notice issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It states that the Agency will issue this notice of receipt of requests by registrants to voluntarily cancel certain pesticide registrations. as required by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide...

  • Notices: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY.  // Federal Register (National Archives & Records Service, Office of;10/28/2013, Vol. 78 Issue 208, p64209 

    The article presents notices issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA submits an information collection requests to the Office of Management and Budget for review and approval pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act. It extends the review periods for Premanufacture Notices...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics