Thursday, July 12, 2007

What does the EU know that we don’t?

This week a court in the European Union banned the herbicide Paraquat (also known as Gramoxone) from use in the EU, citing the chemical's toxicity to the human nervous system. One of the court's reasons for the ban was the failure of the chemical's manufacturer, Syngenta, to provide the court with information regarding Paraquat's link to Parkinson's disease in humans.

The ban came in response to a petition from Sweden, where the chemical was banned in 1983 due to human toxicity concerns. Joining the EU in 1995 forced Sweden to accept some of the EU's weaker environmental provisions - such as the use of Paraquat. This ban was a victory for them.

Paraquat is one of the world's most popular herbicides. Here in North Carolina, it is applied to crops like apples, blueberries, corn, peaches, peanuts, soybeans and squash. An estimated 127,000 pounds of Paraquat were applied to NC crops in 2005, according to data gathered from the Census of Agriculture.

A 1997 re-registration review of Paraquat by the US EPA found no need for neurological review: "There is currently no evidence to suggest the need for these studies." (Paraquat Re-Registration Eligibility Document (pdf), US EPA 1997).

So what do Sweden and the EU know that the US EPA doesn't? One clue may be this: when assessing the human and environmental risks posed by specific chemicals, the EU considers independent scientific data, not just what's provided by the manufacturer. The EPA only requires manufacturer safety data for its re-registration process.

Seems like maybe we're missing something important, doesn't it?

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