A Senate Judiciary subcommittee has accused the Environmental Protection Agency of failing to assure the safety of pesticides and of making a "conscious policy decision" not to evaluate the safety testing data submitted by pesticide manufacturers.
In a report released yesterday, the Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure said the EPA's alleged failure was both dangerous and costly to the nation.
"In an almost classic example of poor governmental regulation, the EPA's pesticide program has struck an incorrect and dangerous balance between the sometimes conflicting demands of limited resources, bureacratic efficiency and public health," the report said.
As a result, the report said, "Several years of regulatory effort will have to reexamined, substantially redone, and fundamentally redirected if the Congress and the public are to have a reasonable basis to conclude that today's pesticides do not pose a significant risk to human health and environment."
The criticism centered on what the subcommittee said was the EPA's failure to carry out the mandate of the 1972 Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act.
That law required the agency to review all pesticide products previously registered with the federal and state governments over the last 30 years, and to determine whether they should be allowed to remain on the market under new, stricter federal regulations.
Those products involved 35,000 that had been registered by states.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the subcommittee chairman, said his panel found that the EPA "by and large ignored warnings" not to consider test data submitted by pesticide companies "as long as 25 years ago."
"Even more alarming is that apparently EPA made a conscious policy decision sometime in 1973 or 1974 not to evaluate the safety testing data," Kennedy said.
The senator said that record behind the apparent decision is not entirely clear. "What is clear, however, is that EPA had no sound basis upon which to assume that data 15, 20, or 25 years ago was generally good and reliable," Kennedy said.
The report charged specifically that "the superficially of EPA's scientific review" allowed the production of leptophos - a pesticide which affects the human nervous system in a manner similar to rattlesnake venom - long after scientists had called for a half to production of the chemical. It finally halted in January, 1976.
The report said that in 1973 and 1974 the EPA "received repeated warnings from scientists, within and outside the agency, that leptophos was neurotoxic to mammals and fowl." Instead of heeding those warnings, the EPA relied on the assurances of the Velsicol Chemical Corp. of Bayport, Tex., that its leptophos was safe, the report said.
Velsicol produced leptophos for use on tomato and lettuce crops.
Kennedy said he appreciated the manpower problems that may have caused EPA to do a poor job in regulating the pesticides. However, he said the agency was at fault because it attempted to conceal its problems from Congress and the public.
"Not until very recently did EPA inform the Congress and the public that these constraints forced the agency into the untenable and dangerious decision not to evaluate and validate much of the safety testing data" in the review process, Kennedy said.
EPA Administrator Russell E. Train, while agreeing with many of the criticisms contained in the report, denied yesterday that the agency deliberately attempted to shirk its duties or to mislead the public.
Train said he wrote Kennedy Dec. 23 pointing out that, because of the agency's manpower problems, it would use its resources to concentrate on the most suspect chemicals. He also said that the EPA held a series of public meetings in 1974 to explain this policy.
The EPA was to complete its pesticide review process by October, 1976 - a deadline that subsequently was extended to October, 1977.
But Train said yesterday thatboth deadlines were unrealistic.