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May 12, 2009

US bans pesticide carbofuran for food crops

by H. Josef Herbert

The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued a final rule banning the use of the pesticide carbofuran on food crops, saying it poses an unacceptable health risk, especially to children.

The insecticide, sold under the brand name Furadan, has been under EPA review for years. Its granular form was banned in the mid-1990s because it was blamed for killing millions of migratory birds. The agency began its effort to remove the pesticide completely from the market in 2006.

Furadan is manufactured by Philadelphia-based FMC Corp., which has fought the ban. In March, the company voluntarily scaled back its uses, in hopes of heading off broader restrictions.

FMC Corp. officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The company said on its Web site that Furadan "remains a useful product, vital to the sustainability of agriculture " and that its proper use "does not create a risk to human health, wildlife or the environment."

The EPA said it was revoking all allowable tolerance levels for carbofuran on food crops, including those imported, and in the coming months will move to ban the chemical's use altogether, including on nonfood crops, because of risks to farm workers and to the environment.

Even though the manufacturer said it would cut back its U.S. use of carbofuran to a smaller number crops, the EPA said the chemical still poses "an unacceptable dietary risk, especially to children, from consuming a combination of food and water with carbofuran residues."

The ban goes into effect at the end of the year.

In a fact sheet, EPA says carbofuran "can overstimulate the nervous system, causing nausea, dizziness, confusion and, at very high exposures, respiratory paralysis and death."

The chemical gained some notoriety recently when it was reported that herdsmen in East Africa were using the chemical to poison lions. Officials at FMC Corp. denounced the practice and said they were taking "aggressive action" to stop shipments to Uganda and Tanzania, and were beginning a buy-back program in Kenya.

The American Bird Conservancy on Monday hailed the EPA action to halt the use of the chemical in the United States.

Michael Fry, director of the group's pesticide monitoring program, said that while the granular form of the chemical — largely ended in the mid-1990s — was especially devastating to bird populations, "we know the liquid form has been killing birds, not as many as the granular form, but still in significant numbers."

Associated Press/Google

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