The Environmental Protection Agency, at the urging of the chemical industry, has added a new list of restrictions to the form it uses to release health and safety data about pesticides and herbicides.
The changes, including a warning that publishing anything more than excerpts or summaries is illegal, have prompted a chorus of complaints from labor, farm and environmental groups which say the restrictions will make it nearly impossible for independent scientists to determine if pesticides approved by the EPA are safe.
The EPA adopted its new procedure in November, after the House had rejected an attempt by the chemical industry to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act of 1978 (FIFRA). The new procedure is nearly identical in wording to the industry-backed legislation that the House rejected, prompting environmental groups to accuse the EPA of doing by "administrative fiat" what Congress refused to do.
FIFRA now requires that anyone seeking health and safety studies must sign a "non-multinational status" certificate, which states they are not a representative of a foreign pesticide maker.
The EPA now has revised that form so that it carries a full page of instructions about how the data can be used, including a clause that warns recipients not to publish the information except in brief excerpts or summaries.
Jay Feldman, a spokesman for the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, yesterday said that clause would expose scientists to lawsuits by pesticide makers if they printed "more than one sentence" from the data. Since a scientist must be able to explain the data in detail to prove it is flawed, the requirement would have a "chilling effect" upon criticism by scientists in scholarly journals, he said.
That charge and others were raised last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council in a letter to EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch. Attorneys for the council, which represents Feldman's organization as well as the AFL-CIO, Friends of Earth, the Sierra Club and other groups, accused the agency of engaging in an "EPA-industry compact to prevent dissemination of pesticide data."
Edwin Johnson, director of EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, said the change was not designed to keep scientists from getting industry reports, which deal with such health issues as the cancer-causing potential of a pesticide.
Johnson said the EPA's intent was to make sure that scientists realized what they could and couldn't do with data that they received.
Environmentalists and labor groups have been trying since 1978 to review industry health and safety data supplied to the EPA. A series of lawsuits has blocked such access, except in one case agreed to by pesticide makers.
Many environmentalists say they suspect manufacturers of submitting flawed scientific data, and that they believe the EPA has been lax about examining health and safety reports by the industry.
They also express fear that some commonly used pesticides may cause nerve damage, cancer, birth defects and other health problems.
The NRDC challenged the EPA's authority to add the extra rules without calling for public comment.
Johnson said public comment was not needed because the additions to the form involve advice and interpetations of current law. "We decided we needed to do a better job explaining the law," he said.
The form was changed at the request of nine pesticide makers represented by Washington attorney Kenneth Weinstein, who said yesterday that the revision was aimed at foreign competitors, not domestic scientists.