The Washington Post incorrectly reported Saturday that the Health Research Group had petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency for a two-year ban on the pesticide DBCP. In fact the group has spent two years petitioning for a permanent ban.
A federal scientific panel, citing evidence that the widely used pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) causes sterility in humans and cancer in test animals, yesterday recommended that all use of the chemical compound bebanned immediately in the United States.
In a report to the Environmental Protection Agency, the eight members of the agency's scientific advisory panel said continued use of DBCP "may represent a hazard to man and his environment."
The panel's recommendation is the first it has made to the EPA calling for an immediate suspension of use of a chemical. The group was formed in 1975. An EPA spokesman said the agency would give the panel's warning serious consideration.
"We intend to decide on a course of action within the next few weeks," EPA Deputy Administrator Barbara Blum said yesterday.
The issue of whether to continue use of DBCP on crops has intensified in recent weeks. Growers in California, where the pesticide has been banned for two years, estimate that continuation of the ban in that state will cost them $150 million annually.
Environmental groups and other public interest organizations have claimed that evidence of cancer and sterility hazards from the pesticide to farm workers and others require halting the use of DBCP immediately.
"In view of the advisory panel's recommendation, we feel the only course of action open to EPA is an immediate ban on all uses of DBCP," Robert Stulberg, a staff attorney for the Health Research Group, said. The group, a public interest organization here, has petitioned the EPA for a two-year ban on DBCP use.
The pesticide is widely used on such crops as citrus fruits, soybeans, grapes and nuts, although its use on 19 other fruit and vegetable crops was halted by the EPA in 1977 after the agency received reports that DBCP caused sterility among workers who manufactured it.
Investigators for the EPA have potentially hazardous levels of DBCP in wells supplying drinking water in California and in Arizona, where it is heavily used on citrus crops. It also is used in Hawaii, South Carolina, Florida and Texas.
Before DBCP was banned in California, growers used an estimated 800,000 pounds of the pesticide on a wide variety of crops to kill worms that attack plant roots.
California authorities have identified DBCP as a "midlevel"-strength pesticide, capable of causing cancers at levels as low as 1 part per bilion. Officials claim the pesticide is particularly hazardous to humans in drinking water, because large amounts of contaminated water are consumed daily.
Using federal exposure statistics, federal and state researchers recently calculated that over 70-year lifetime, one person in every2,500 who drink water contaminated with 1 part per bilion of DBCP would develop cancer.
In the California and Arizona tests, investigators found levels of the pesticide in drinking water ranging up to 18 parts per bilion. Both states urged residents not to use the contaminated well water for drinking or cooking.
While DBCP is imported from Mexican manufacturers, the sole U. S. manufacturer is the Amvac Chemical Corp., a Los Angeles firm that reportedly has been making 2,500 gallons of it daily. Amvac officials have denied that conclusive evidence exists that DBCP causes either cancer or sterility in humans.