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EPA considering “extremely hazardous” pesticide for Florida citrus

A company wants federal permission to use a pesticide linked to brain damage in young children and infants on citrus trees in Florida and Texas.

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering an application from AgLogic to allow Florida citrus growers to use the pesticide aldicarb, which is classified as "extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization -- its highest toxicity category.

Growers in the United States were prohibited from using it on citrus in 2010 and it’s banned in about 100 countries, although AgLogic was approved to use the chemical on a small subset of other crops in the U.S.

Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said this is “really nasty stuff” because it is persistent and gets into the groundwater.

“Studies that EPA has analyzed indicate that it can harm the developing brain of the fetus or young child at very, very, very low doses,” he said. “And so, doses that were estimated to be in the water or on people's food, as a result of using it in 2010, EPA found that those residues were higher than what the agency estimated could cause harm to a developing child.”

Donley said it’s "crazy" that this country is going in the opposite direction.

"Not only have we not banned it, we're considering expanding its use,” he said. “I think that's extremely radical, and I don't think it's something that should even be remotely considered in this country."

If the manufacturer’s application is approved, it would allow use of the neurotoxin on up to 400,000 acres of orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime trees in Florida and Texas.

Florida's citrus industry has been battling the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that has been decimating production.

Companies typically won't submit an application unless they have received some assurances that it will be approved, according to Donley.

"When a pesticide company submits an application to EPA, they generally have to provide a lot of testing, and this is very expensive -- can be in the millions of dollars,” he said. “And so for a company to put in this type of investment, they want to have an indication that they're going to get a payout at the end."

Donley expects a final decision will be made under the Biden administration in about a year, but a spokesperson for the EPA said in an email that it could be as early as next month.

“EPA received a pesticide registration application from AgLogic to use the insecticide Aldicarb on oranges and grapefruit trees in Florida to help protect citrus crops. EPA is evaluating the application and expects to make a decision in January, which must be followed by an evaluation by the Florida Department of Agriculture,” according to a spokesperson.

Donley said there are a lot of scientists currently at the EPA who had worked hard to get this voluntary phase out in 2010 and really hate aldicarb because "they know how bad it is."

“I know there are champions in that agency that don't want to see this happen, and so we'll just have to see what ends up happening. I am cautiously optimistic," said Donley. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of influence by the chemical industry, in this office, particularly.”