Lawn Care Pesticide Risks Remain Uncertain While Prohibited Safety Claims Continue

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-03-28.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                   United States General Accounting       Ofl!ice

For Release        Lawn Care Pesticide     Risks Remain Uncertain
on Delivery        While Prohibited    Safety   Claims Continue
Expected    at
9:30 a.m. EST
March 28, 1990

                   Statement     of
                   Peter   F. Guerrero,        Associate      Director
                   Environmental       Protection       Issues
                   Resources,      Community,      and Economic
                   Development      Division
                   Before    the
                   Subcommittee     on Toxic    Substances,
                   Environmental     Oversight,     Research
                   and Development
                   Committee     on Environment    and Public            Works
                   United States Senate

GAO/T-RCED-90-53                   /
Mr. Chairman            and Members of the                  Subcommittee:

          We appreciate              the opportunity               to be here            today     to discuss            our
report       on the         Environmental           Protection            Agency's         (EPA) progress                in
reassessing            the health          risks         of widely        used lawn care                pesticides
and information                the lawn care              pesticides           industry          provides        to the
public       about      the     safety      of     its     products.1            Our report             also     provides
information           on federal           enforcement             actions        taken        against         prohibited
lawn care          pesticide          safety       advertising            claims.

          Nearly      4 years         ago we reported               to this           Subcommittee             on EPA's
lack      of progress           in reassessing              the chronic               health      risks
associated           with     the use of nonagricultural                          pesticides            and on the
limited       federal         monitoring           and enforcement               action         being       taken
against       safety         advertising           claims         made by the           pesticides
industry.2            In     that     report,       we concluded               that     there      is considerable
uncertainty           about         the potential           for     nonagricultural                pesticides            to
cause      chronic          health     effects,           such as cancer               and birth          defects,        and
that      reassessing           the health          risks         of using        these        pesticides          may
take      a long      time.          We also       concluded           that     the general             public
receives       misleading             information           on pesticide               hazards      and that         EPA
had made limited                use of      its     authority           over      unacceptable

lLawn Care Pesticides:                      Risks Remain Uncertain  While Prohibited
Safety Claims Continue                     (GAO/RCED-90-134,  March 23, 1990).
2Nonagricultural                Pesticides:.             Risks      and Reaulation                (GAO/RCED-86-97,
April  18, 1986).

advertising               safety      claims.           We recommended                     that      EPA take        steps          to
strengthen            and improve           its        program         for      controlling                such claims.

           Last     May we testified                   before         this      Subcommittee                and stated              that
EPA      was still           at a preliminary                  stage         in reassessing                 the risks          of
older          pesticides           and had not             completely           reassessed                any
pesticides.           3     We concluded               that     while         EPA had made some progress,
it     still       had much work            to do.

          As a result               of our earlier               findings,                this     Subcommittee              asked
us to determine                 what progress                 EPA has made in reassessing                              all     of
the risks           associated           with         the     use of lawn                 care     pesticides          and in
enforcing           safety          advertising             claims.          Our follow-up                  work showed
that       EPA continues              to make limited                  progress              in reassessing             the
health          and environmental                 risks        of     pesticides                 applied      to lawns         and
on food           crops.       Of the most widely                      used lawn care                  pesticides,             none
of     those       subject          to reregistration                  has been completely                       reassessed.
We also           found      that     prohibited              pesticide          advertising                claims      that
EPA classifies                as false          and misleading                 are         still      being      made by the
lawn care           pesticides           industry.              Yet EPA has taken                      even fewer             formal
enforcement            actions          in recent             years      than        it      did     during      the    1984 and
1985 period            we reviewed              for     our     earlier          report.

3Reregistration                and Tolerance  Reassessment Remain Incomplete                                                  for
Most Pesticides                (GAO/T-RCED-89-40,  May 15, 1989).

          Pesticides           used for        lawn care            purposes            are    chemicals        or
biological          substances             designed        to kill         and control             living
organisms--        unwanted          species         of    plants,             insects,        and animals.            They
are    used in places              where people             live,         work,         and play.           They are
used in such places                  as gardens,            parks,         and on lawns             and golf
courses.          Because         lawn care          pesticides            are designed             to destroy           or
control       living       organisms,              exposure         to    them can be hazardous.

          According        to 1988 estimates                    provided           by EPA, lawn care
pesticides         constitute              a large        and growing              market.         Sales      of lawn
care      pesticides           in the United              States         have increased             to over          $700
million       annually          and result           in about            67 million            pounds of active
ingredients            being     applied.            The professional                     lawn care         business        has
developed         into    a billion            dollar       industry             over      the last         decade     as
more and more people                      have turned           to such companies                  for      lawn
maintenance.             This      business          has experienced                    unprecedented          growth,
and the demand for                 these       services          is still           growing.             EPA estimates
that      professional           lawn care           companies,            treating            mostly      residential
lawns,       do a $1.5          billion        dollar       annual         business            and that       as many as
11 percent         of    single           family     households            use a professional

          Under    the     Federal          Insecticide,             Fungicide,               and Rodenticide            Act
(FIFRA),       EPA is required                 to evaluate               the     risks        and benefits           of a

proposed           pesticide           before      it         is    registered             for     use.       More recently,
the FIFRA Amendments of                         1988 (known                 as FIFRA '88)                 imposed      mandatory
time      frames       and provided              resources                to help          accelerate           the
reregistration                of older          pesticides,                  including            lawn care          pesticides.
Reregistration                is    the process                of bringing             approximately                 24,000
registered            pesticide            products            into       compliance              with     current       data
requirements               and scientific                standards              and taking               appropriate
regulatory            action        on the basis                   of    this      new knowledge.

         EPA has authority                   under         FIFRA to take                   enforcement            action
against           safety      advertising               claims           made by pesticide                   manufacturers
and distributors.                      Specifically,                    FIFRA section              12(a)(l)(B)
prohibits           claims         made as part                of a pesticide's                    distribution             and
sale     that       differ         substantially                   from claims             made as part              of a
pesticide's            registration              application.

         However,            section        12(a)(l)(B)                  applies        only       to the distributors
and sellers            of     pesticides,               not        to the       users,           such as professional
pesticide           applicators.                Thus,          EPA has no enforcement                         authority           over
product           safety      claims        made by pesticide                        applicators,             even though
they     sometimes            make claims               that        would       be    subject            to enforcement
action       if     made by a pesticide                        distributor.

         The Federal               Trade     Commission                  (FTC),       under        its     legislative
authority           to protect            consumers                against         false         and deceptive
advertising,               can take         enforcement                  action       against            pesticide

applicators              as well      as manufacturers                 and distributors.                          FTC
considers          a pesticide           advertisement                to be deceptive                 if     it     contains
a material           representation              or omission            that      is     likely            to mislead
consumers          from      acting      reasonably            under      the     circumstances.                     To
determine          whether         an advertisement                is deceptive,               FTC looks             at the
advertisement               as a whole,          rather        than     at      individual            statements.


         Our 1986 report               contained          a list        of      50 pesticides                widely         used
in nonagricultural                  products.          We concluded               that       the      health         risks
associated           with     their      use were uncertain                     and that          until           EPA
completed          its      reassessments          as part            of the      reregistration                    process,
the     public       would     continue          to be exposed                 to unknown health                    risks
associated           with     these      pesticides.

         As part          of our      follow-up        work,          we planned          to      update           the
reregistration               status      of the      50 pesticides                to determine                    what
progress          EPA had made in               reassessing            their      health          risks.            We found,
however,          after      reviewing          them with          EPA officials               that         many did         not
have major           lawn care         uses.       Thus,        for     our follow-up                 work,         we used a
list     of      34 pesticides           that     EPA identified                 as currently                representing
those     most widely              used for       lawn care            purposes.

           We determined            the current             reregistration              status       of each of
the 34 major            lawn care          pesticides.               Two are        not     subject         to
reregistration             because         they      are     newer pesticides                subject          to current
registration            standards.           Of the remaining                    32 pesticides,               none has
been completely                reassessed:            23 have been issued                    an interim
registration            standard,          while      9 have yet              to be evaluated               in terms                  of
their       data      needs and conditions                   of    reregistration.

           We also      determined          that      six        pesticides         were subjected                     to
Special        Review because              of concerns             about       their      chronic          health               and
environmental            effects.           These concerns                 range       from cancer            to
wildlife           hazards.       Two of         these       pesticides,            diazinon         and 2,4-D,
have been determined                     to be the         most widely             used pesticides                     for
residential            lawn care.           I will         now discuss             some of         the health                   and
environmental            concerns          associated             with     the    use of          these     two
pesticides           as well      as EPA's latest                  actions         to address             these             *

           Diazinon      is an insecticide                   used to control               a variety              of
insects        found     around          farms     and nurseries,                around      commercial
establishments             such as restaurants,                     and around            homes and gardens.
Diazinon,           in fact,        is    the most widely                used pesticide              on residential
lawns.         According         to 1989 EPA estimates,                       about       6 million          pounds               of
diazinon        are     used on home lawns                   and commercial               turf.

           EPA subjected                 diazinon              to     its        Special            Review         process      when it
found       that         it     was killing              waterfowl                 and other               bird     species.            A
Special        Review             is EPA's evaluation                            of     the        risks      and benefits             of
pesticides            of particular                     concern                to determine                whether      regulatory
action        is needed.                 As a result,                      EPA cancelled                   uses     of diazinon             on
golf       courses             and sod farms,                  although               bird         poisonings         on residential
lawns       and in corn                 and alfalfa                  fields           have also             been reported.

           Due to a number of                          homeowner poisonings                            from misuse            of
diazinon,            EPA imposed                 labeling             requirements                    in order        to provide
information                   to and protection                      for        the     homeowner.                 EPA has also
placed       a restricted                    use requirement                       on diazinon's                   commercial
outdoor        uses            (on agricultural                     crops,            for     example).               Only certified
applicators                or persons                 under     their            direct            supervision         can apply             the
pesticide            because            of      its     potential                hazard            to various         bird      and fish
species.             This        restriction,                  however,               does not             apply     to commercial
lawn care            companies               and homeowners                      because            EPA believes             more
criteria           are         needed        to determine                      the appropriateness                    of restricting
pesticides            currently                 available             to the            homeowner.                 EPA has called
for    additional                toxicity              data     with            regard        to diazinon's               effects           on
human health,                   but     until          these        data         have been received,                      diazinon's
use    on lawns                raises        uncertainties                      about        its     risks         to humans.

           An ingredient                 in more              than         1,500        pesticide             products,         2,4-D        is
a weed killer                   that     has been used extensively                                     by farmers            and home
gardeners            for        over     40 years.                  About          60 million               pounds of          2,4-D        are

used annually              in the         United         States,           primarily               by wheat         and corn
farmers.           Almost         4 million             pounds         are    used annually                  on residential

           EPA notified              the      2,4-D           registrant         in            1986 of      its     intent          to
place      the     pesticide             in Special             Review based on evidence                              of
increased          cancer         risk      among farmers                  handling              similar          types      of
herbicides.               However,          the     decision            whether                to place      2,4-D          in
Special       Review        because          of possible                cancer            risk      will     not      be made
until      late     summer 1990 upon completion                                and review                  of two
epidemiological                  studies.           Further,            as part                of 2,4-D's          registration
standard,          EPA has called                 for      additional            laboratory                 testing          for
birth     defects          and other           potential               long-term                effects      for      which
adequate          data     are currently                 unavailable.                     It     will      be some time
before      EPA will         make a determination                            on 2,4-D              as these         tests          may
require       up to        50 months           to       complete.

         Given      the     continuing              uncertainty               of the             health      risks         of lawn
care     pesticides              and EPA's particular                        concerns              about     the      six
pesticides          in Special              Review,            we believe            it         is all      the     more
important          that     the      public         is protected               from pesticide
advertisements              that         convey         the     impression                of safety.               Yet the
pesticides          industry             continues             to make advertising                         claims         that      its
products          are     safe     or nontoxic                 while       federal              enforcement           actions
against       such claims                remain         limited.

           EPA has taken                 few formal           enforcement           actions         against
unacceptable               pesticide            safety        advertising             claims      since      our     earlier
report.            EPA's data             showed that            between        October          1, 1986,          and
September           30,     1989,         EPA took           17 civil        penalty       enforcement              actions
under       FIFRA section                 12(a)(l)(B).                Only    one of       these         actions
involved        a lawn            care     pesticide           safety        claim.        Most of          the others
involved           health         claims        for    disinfectants               (a class         of    pesticides)
and claims           for      uses other              than     a product's             registered           uses.        In
comparison,            we reported                earlier        in     1986 that        EPA took           18 civil
penalty       enforcement                 actions        between         January        1, 1984,          and July        30,
1985--a       period         of      19 months.               Thus,      current        enforcement            activities
indicate       that         reviewing             and enforcing              pesticide          advertising
receives        less        EPA attention                now than         before.

          According           to EPA's Compliance                       Division        Director,           pesticide
safety       advertising                 claims       have been and continue                      to be a low
Priority       because             of limited            resources           and because            other      unlawful
acts       under     FIFRA,         such as pesticide                    misuse,        are EPA's           primary
concerns.            Additionally,                 EPA does not              have an active               program        to
screen       pesticide             literature            nor an enforcement                    strategy        to make
better       use of         its     limited           resources          and ensure            proper       attention          to
unacceptable              claims.           EPA takes           enforcement             action       against
unacceptable             pesticide            claims       as situations                 are         brought         to its

          Besides        taking         action       under         FIFRA,          EPA can refer                 improper
advertising             claims      to FTC.             In 1986 and for                      this      update,          EPA's
Office       of    Compliance             Monitoring          could          not      tell          us how       many     cases

EPA had referred                 to FTC for             enforcement                action,           explaining           that      the
Compliance           Division           did    not      keep records                of referrals.                    FTC'S
Associate          Director         for       Advertising             Practices               could         recall       only     one
case--an          efficacy        claim--        and while            he believes                   there      may have been
referrals          at    the     regional         office           level,          he had no available                     data      on
these       cases.

          FTC rarely           initiates          action           against          pesticide               advertising
claims.           In 1986,        its      Program         Advisor           for     General               Advertising
(which       includes          pesticide          advertising)                could           recall         only       about
three       pesticide          actions         within        10 years              or so.            Since       1986,     FTC has
initiated          11 pesticide-related                     investigations,                         most     of which
involved          efficacy        (effectiveness)                   claims.            None,           however,          involved
a lawn care             pesticide          safety        claim.             According               to FTC's Associate
Director,          Division         of Advertising                  Practices,                while         FTC is still
concerned          about       pesticide          safety           advertising                claims         made by
manufacturers              and distributors,                  it      prefers          to defer              to EPA in this
area      because        of EPA's specific                  statutory               authority               and technical

          For our current                   report,        we reviewed           manufacturers'                    and
distributors'               pesticide             advertising           and found         they            are still
making         safety       claims         that        could     discourage           users         from      following
label      directions              and precautionary                   statements.             Examples               of the
health         and safety               information            we found        included        statements                such as:

          --    "[This          product]          is    safe     to    use.      It    won't         harm flowers,
                foliage,           or fruit.             There's        no danger         to honeybees                   or
                other       beneficial               insects.          And [this        product]              is      safe     to
                applicators.                . . " and

         --     "[This          product        is]      non-toxic:             completely            safe       for
                  humans,          the     environment,               and beneficial                insects."

A more complete                  listing          is contained            in our       report         being           released

         Such claims               are prohibited                by FIFRA because                   they     differ
substantially               from claims                allowed        to be made as part                    of the
pesticide's             approved            registration.               EPA, using            its     standards               for
pesticide             labels,       considers            that     such claims           when made by
manufacturers               and distributors                    are    false     and misleading.

         Professional                   lawn care        pesticide         applicators               are also            making
claims         that      could      lead      consumers           to believe           that         the     pesticides
applied         around          their      homes are safe               or nontoxic.                 In addition,                   some

of   the professional                    lawn care           company representatives                            we talked              to
made safety             claims         for      their      products            over       the    telephone.                Our
report       contains           a complete              listing         of applicator               safety         claims.

           While      the effect              of     professional             applicator            safety         claims          is
uncertain,           we believe               that      such claims             may persuade               consumers              to
purchase        a service              they        otherwise           would       not     use or discourage
reasonable           precautions               to minimize              exposure,           such as avoiding
recently           treated          areas.           EPA does not             have authority                over         claims         by
professional             pesticide             applicators.                  FTC, under           its      own
legislation,             can act             against       unacceptable               safety       claims          by
applicators,            but         FTC believes            that        EPA has been successfully
handling        such claims                  through       informal           actions           taken      by appropriate
EPA regional            off ices.              EPA headquarters                    officials            could      not     tell         us
whether        pesticide             claims          referred          to its       regional            offices         since
1986 involved             any applicator                  claims.             We    have since             checked
directly        with         four      EPA regional               offices,          and they            could      not     recall
any action           against           advertising              claims        by professional                   pesticide
applicators.                Because           neither       agency           is acting           against          safety
claims       by pesticide               applicators               and because             FTC prefers              to defer             to
EPA for        action         in this          area,       we believe              that     EPA needs             to seek
authority           under      FIFRA for              regulating             such claims.


          In our            report       we recommend that                    EPA take           the     following

          --     Because            EPA does not           have authority                   over       pesticide
                 applicator              claims,        and since             FTC, which            has this          authority,
                 prefers             to defer         to EPA because                 of   its
                 technical             expertise,          EPA should                seek legislative                 authority
                 over        safety          claims     by professional                   pesticide            applicators.

          --     Also,            in order       to protect            the public               from prohibited
                 pesticide             safety         claims,       EPA should              enforce         FIFRA section
                 12(a)(l)(B).                  In doing          so,    it      should          develop        an enforcement
                 strategy             to include,          among other                things,          the effective
                 utilization                 of staff      resources.

          In conclusion,                     as we testified                 last     May       before      this
Subcommittee,                     the expeditious               reregistration                  of pesticides              is
paramount              to    reducing          the uncertainty                  surrounding              their      risks.         We
stated,          however,             that     while      EPA had made some progress                               in this
regard,          it     still         had much work to do.                          We continue           to believe             that
while          FIFRA        ‘88     can help          accelerate             the reregistration                    process,
reregistering                     pesticide       products          and reassessing                    their       risks        remain

formidable             tasks.       In the     interim,           the     general        public's          health      may

be at      risk        from exposure          to these          pesticides            until      EPA's
reassessments              are    performed          and regulatory             action         has been taken.
Additionally,              we believe         that     without          an effective             federal
enforcement             program,      the     lawn care           pesticides            industry      will
continue          to    make     prohibited          safety       claims       that      EPA classifies               as
false      and misleading             and that         could          discourage         users      from     following
label      directions            and precautionary                statements           or lead       consumers             to
believe       that       the     pesticides          applied          around    their         homes are        safe        or

        Mr.       Chairman,        this     concludes           my     prepared        statement.            I will         be
glad      to respond            to any questions               that     you or members of                the
Subcommittee             might     have.