EPA To Allow Spraying Of Pesticides Over Water

On Nov. 21, EPA announced a final rule that allows pesticides to be sprayed into and over waters without first obtaining special permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Clarifying when the CWA applies to pesticide use is critical because confusion over when a permit is required could hinder public health officials' efforts to prevent or respond to an infestation of mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus, or to control an invasive species that may damage valuable natural resources, officials said. They also stated that the action puts into effect a rule that confirms EPA's past operating approach that pesticides legally registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for application to or near aquatic environments, and legally applied to control pests at those sites, are not subject to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements.

"This clean water rule strengthens and streamlines efforts of public health officials and communities to control pests and invasive species while maintaining important environmental safeguards," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin H. Grumbles.

Specifically, the two circumstances under the rule that won't require a NPDES permit are when:

  • pesticides are applied directly to water to control pests, including mosquito larvae, aquatic weeds and other pests in the water.
  • pesticides are applied to control pests that are present over or near water where a portion of the pesticide can be deposited into the water.

In a fact sheet on the new rule, the agency stated that residuals of applications within the scope of the two circumstances described in the rule are pollutants. However, NPDES permits are not required for an application that may leave residuals. This is because the pesticide is not a pollutant at the time of discharge and becomes a residual only after it has served its intended purpose.

FIFRA requires that pesticides be registered by EPA before they can be sold or distributed. "Before they are registered, they must undergo extensive study and review to help ensure that, when properly used, they do not cause unreasonable adverse effects on human health and the environment," officials said.

According to Beyond Pesticides, an environmental group, CWA uses a kind of health-based standard known as maximum-contamination levels to protect waterways and requires permits when chemicals are directly deposited into rivers, lakes and streams, while FIFRA uses a highly subjective risk assessment with no attention to the safest alternative.

"(FIFRA) does not regulate and oversee water quality and the protection of aquatic ecosystems in the local context, which is the distinct business of the CWA," Beyond Pesticides officials stated. "Indeed, there is controversy over whether many of the precautionary statements on labels registered by FIFRA adequately protect public health and the environment from the application of toxic chemicals due to a lack of toxicity and impact studies. When FIFRA registers a pesticide, it does not take into account heightened toxicity due to combinations of chemicals (mixtures and synergy), or the phenomenon of toxic chemical drift, which commonly occurs in aerial spraying."

Additional information on the final rule can be found at http://www.epa.gov/npdes/agriculture.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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