The Environmental Protection Agency is considering allowing Dow Chemical Co. to continue selling a controversial pesticide used to protect new homes from termites beyond a deadline that requires it to be phased out for this use at the end of the month.
EPA officials said yesterday that they are reviewing new information from Dow suggesting that chlorpyrifos, sold under the trade name Dursban, meets federal exposure guidelines when used this way. Each year, builders apply hundreds of millions of gallons of Dursban on bare ground to kill termites before laying home foundations. It is also used widely on crops, on golf courses and to control mosquitoes, and there are no plans to restrict these applications.
Some recent studies have linked Dursban to neurological and developmental damage in animals and young children. Dow officials question these studies and say children in new homes are protected by layers of plastic and concrete covering the pesticide-treated ground.
Jim Jones, who directs the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, said the agency still expects Dow to cease selling Dursban for home construction on Dec. 31 under an agreement the two parties struck in 2000. But he added that the administration will review the company's petition over the next month and a half to judge whether Dow will be allowed to resume marketing the pesticide for new homes.
"We wouldn't allow them to use it if it wasn't safe," Jones said.
Based on talks between the company and the EPA, Dow AgroSciences spokesman Garry Hamlin said the firm believes it will be able to sell Dursban for home building for the next three years as long as it conducts extensive air monitoring and submits the results to the government. He said Dow used new agency mathematical modeling to gauge pesticide exposures linked to construction and found "it falls within an acceptable range."
Hamlin said that, after 40 years on the market and 3,600 studies of its effects, Dursban has "undergone the most rigorous review of any product in the history of the world."
But public health advocates pointed to a recent study of black and Latino women in New York City, in which researchers found that babies who were exposed to the pesticide in utero weighed less and were shorter than babies who were not. They said the administration should not allow the continued use of Dursban under homes, where children are more vulnerable to exposure.
Jay Feldman, executive director of the advocacy group Beyond Pesticides, said some of Jones's advisers told him last week that the EPA would grant Dow as much as a three-year extension, which he called "deplorable."
"It just doesn't make sense in light of what is known in terms of the neurological risks of this chemical," Feldman said.