“This is the most significant step the EPA has taken in years to increase transparency about pesticides’ harms,” one advocate said.
by Johnathan Hettinger, Investigate Midwest July 27, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency posted searchable databases of pesticide harm for the first time in agency history on Thursday.
The databases, which include reports of harm to people, pets, wildlife and the environment, include information from pesticide companies, state regulators, direct complaints to the EPA and reports to the National Pesticide Information Center and the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
The EPA regulates pesticides through the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. After a pesticide is registered, manufacturers are required to report incidents of harm to the agency. The EPA is supposed to use that information in its safety assessments, though previous Investigate Midwest reporting shows the agency had no system for reviewing incidents.
“People have the right to know when accidental pesticide exposures or other incidents are reported to the agency,” said Michal Freedhoff, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, in a press release. “It is particularly critical to share how pesticides may have impacted our most vulnerable populations, including children and farmworkers.”
The EPA said that it is releasing the information in alignment with its Equity Action Plan and President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 14096, Revitalizing Our Nation’s Commitment to Environmental Justice for All.
“This is the most significant step the EPA has taken in years to increase transparency about pesticides’ harms,” said Nathan Donley, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit working to protect endangered species. “Making this database publicly available will help the public hold regulators accountable for overseeing and reducing pesticides’ harms and, when necessary, revoking their use.”
The EPA is releasing only the 10 most recent years of data. The agency said in a press release that they only previously released this information via Freedom of Information Act requests and in registration reviews.
Investigate Midwest obtained the databases in 2021 and has used them in reporting on incident reports of harm to pets and people from pesticide products. At the time, the EPA’s Freedom of Information Act officers said they had never released the databases before.
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The agency published two data sets: a main incident data set and an aggregate data set. The main data set involves more severe incidents and contains “a description of the incident (e.g., who was involved, how it happened, and where the incident occurred).” The aggregate database includes bulk numbers of incident data.
“EPA is publishing these data sets to increase transparency to the public, but the agency does not currently have the resources to answer individual questions about its content,” the EPA said in a press release.
The agency stressed that incident reports are not reviewed for accuracy and that the existence of an incident report does not mean that the pesticide involved caused that incident.