EPA Says Dursban May Harm Health

One of the nation's most popular pesticides may be unsafe for Americans who use it in their gardens, fields and homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The pesticide, Dursban, can cause blurred vision, muscle weakness, headaches and problems with memory, depression and irritability when people are exposed to it in large amounts, the EPA said in a preliminary scientific assessment posted on its Web site late Wednesday. The EPA analysis found that exposure to Dursban on the skin, in food, or by inhaling it could be harmful to human health.

The EPA said it had a "particular concern" with Dursban poisoning cases reported to federal officials. About one-fourth of 325 illnesses reported from 1993 through 1996 were serious enough to require hospitalization, the agency said.

Dursban is used to kill insects that attack everything from home-grown tomatoes to corn fields. It is also a powerful weapon against termites and cockroaches, and is frequently used in homes, schools, hospitals and pet collars. More than 20 million pounds of Dursban are used annually in the United States, according to the EPA.

The report laid out potential health risks but did not indicate whether the agency planned to tighten use of Dursban, require new labels alerting consumers to the risk or phase it out. The agency will not decide until summer.

Dursban maker Dow Chemical Co., in a letter to the EPA that was included in the report, said EPA's analysis was misleading and based on "fundamental errors" of science.

EPA's scientific analysis of Dursban is part of a project to check for harmful residue in food, drinking water and households from about 9,000 U.S. pesticides.

Dengue Fever Outbreak in Texas

Texas has recorded 25 cases of dengue fever since July, including the only cases of the tropical disease acquired in the United States this year, health officials said.

At least five cases were acquired in the United States, while some were believed caught in Mexico and Brazil. Others are being investigated.

It is the state's largest outbreak since 1995, when 29 people caught the disease, with seven cases acquired in the state, the officials said Wednesday.

Dengue symptoms include high fever, severe headaches, joint and muscle pain and nausea. The disease usually lasts about two weeks and is rarely fatal. There is no vaccine or cure for dengue.

Texas is the only state that has reported locally acquired cases of the virus in the last 50 years, said Vance Vorndam, a microbiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and malaria were common in the United States earlier this century, they have been mostly wiped out.

The CDC confirmed 90 cases of dengue in the United States last year, all acquired in other countries. Because dengue is rarely fatal, many cases might go unreported or misdiagnosed.

Texas is experiencing spillover from an outbreak in northern Mexico, where 7,000 cases have been reported this year. Arizona had three suspected travel-related cases of dengue fever this year and California had a handful of cases.