EPA Defies Court Order to Halt the Use of Dicamba

President Trump’s administration demonstrated its complete disregard for the environment and human health in a myriad of ways. One of those ways involved disregarding a court order regarding an herbicide called dicamba.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered two dicamba products and extended the registration for another dicamba product for applications on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybeans. The decision allows dicamba to be in use from 2021 to 2025. Both products will expire in December 2025 “unless the EPA takes further action to amend the registration,” according to the federal agency’s announcement

The EPA’s decision to register dicamba ignores a court order on June 3, 2020 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the use of dicamba. The court cited the EPA’s failure to acknowledge the risks the herbicide poses to the environment and conventional crops. On June 8, the EPA told growers they could continue using dicamba until July 31. 

First registered in 1967, dicamba is a widely used herbicide in the U.S. It is used on crops, pastures, fallow land, turfgrass, and rangeland to kill weeds. The herbicide is also registered for use in residential areas and other non-agricultural sites. Over 1,000 products sold in the U.S. include dicamba. 

“Protecting the pesticide industry has been a top priority of the EPA during the Trump administration,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. “Millions of acres of crops will continue to be damaged, and the health of farmworkers, children, and all those who live near farms where dicamba is used will be at risk – all in the name of appeasing chemical agriculture.”

Environmental, health effects of dicamba herbicide

The EPA claims it “conducted robust evaluations of the risks to human health and the environment.” Yet its decision to register three forms of dicamba shows it ignored the scientific evidence that the herbicide poses environmental and health threats. One of the environmental problems dicamba causes is pesticide drift. Older versions of dicamba caused pesticide drift so they were typically not used much during warm months when they could kill trees or other crops. In 2016, the EPA approved the registration of new formulations of dicamba that allowed for “over-the-top” applications on dicamba-tolerant cotton and soybean plants. 

Scientists warned that the over-the-top applications would cause damage from drift. Complaints about drift damage have increased in several farm states since the introduction of the new applications. In 2017, the EPA tallied 2,708 official dicamba-related crop injury investigations, with 3.6 million acres of soybeans affected. 

Dicamba is a threat to monarch butterflies. The Center for Biological Diversity found that the timing and the geographical distribution of dicamba use coincide with areas where monarch eggs and caterpillars are found on milkweed. The herbicide degrades milkweed which adult monarchs rely on for nectar. As monarchs travel south for the winter, nectar is their only food source. One percent of the minimum dicamba application rate is enough to reduce the size of milkweed by 50 percent. 

The EPA ignores its own evidence that dicamba presents a risk to human health. A 2016 study by the federal agency found that the biggest health risk from either drinking water or dicamba residue on food is found within children one to two years old. 

There are studies linking dicamba use with cancer and thyroid problems. The most recent study found a higher risk of liver, intrahepatic bile duct cancer, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A 2010 study found a strong association between dicamba and cancer among those who applied it, while a 2001 study found an association between dicamba and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Dicamba is linked to thyroid problems. A 2018 study found a significantly increased risk between dicamba and hypothyroidism. Another study done five years prior found “increased odds” of hypothyroidism and dicamba.

What you can do

While it is highly unlikely the Trump administration will halt the use of dicamba, a new administration takes office in January. Start tweeting to Joe Biden and demand that his administration ban the over-the-top applications of dicamba. 

Image by Peter Miller on Flickr

Why the EPA Should Listen to Science, Not Pesticide Manufacturers

Pesticide resistance in crop-eating plants is the result of the Trump Administration’s EPA derogatory stance toward pesticide manufacturers

Ignoring science is a hallmark of the Trump administration. A proposed rule by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aims to “streamline the regulation of certain plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs).” In reality, it ignores science and listens to pesticide manufacturers and biotech companies. 

The rule is a response to Trump’s executive order on modernizing the regulatory framework for agricultural biotechnology products. The rule proposes exemptions for certain PIPs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The EPA determined that PIPs “have no risks of concern to humans or the environment.” The EPA characterized regulations governing PIPs as antiquated regulations that restrict access to the market for biotechnology products.” The hallmark of the Trump administration’s environmental policy is deregulation. 

PIPs are plants engineered to contain pesticides. Scientists create them by taking the gene for a pesticidal protein and introducing the gene into the plant’s genetic material which causes the plant to express the pesticidal protein that kills the pest when it eats the plant. The EPA regulates the protein and genetic material. The EPA registered the first Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) plant-incorporated protectant in the U.S. in 1995. Corn, cotton, and soy Bt incorporated varieties have been introduced. 

The problems with PIPs

While their purpose is to reduce pesticides, PIPs actually cause the development of pesticide resistance in crop-eating insects. A 2010 study found streams throughout the Midwest contaminated with transgenic materials from corn crop byproducts. Six months after corn harvesting, scientists tested 217 stream sites in Indiana and found that 86 percent of the sites contained maize leaves, cobs, husks, and stalks. In 2011, scientists from Iowa State University documented resistance to a Bt toxin by western corn rootworms. They found the western rootworm’s ability to adapt was strongest in fields where Bt corn was planted for three years in a row. 

A 2013 study found tremendous damage from western corn rootworms in a farm field planted with corn genetically engineered to incorporate with a Bt protein. That particular corn variety has been introduced into almost one-third of the corn planted in the U.S. Another 2013 study found that adding more than one Bt-incorporated trait does not prevent pesticide resistance. Researchers looked at caterpillars resistant to pesticides and discovered that caterpillars resistant to one pesticide survived far better than caterpillars not resistant.

Pesticide Resistance

The EPA’s rule exempts certain PIPs created by cisgenic biotechnological techniques. Cisgenic plants derive from genes from sexually compatible species. The rule makes a distinction between cisgenic and transgenic (where the genes come from any species). Les Touart, PhD, Beyond Pesticides senior science and policy manager, analyzed experiments conducted and concluded that they “confirm that cisgenesis can result in significant unanticipated changes to a plant,” and “show that a trait introduced via a cisgene can result in plants that differ in unanticipated and dramatic ways from their conventionally bred counterparts.” He concluded that the “differences observed would have important implications relevant to health and ecological risk assessments.”

The environmental organization Beyond Pesticides sent a letter to the EPA warning that “the agency’s new pesticide resistance management framework as proposed with only minor changes to existing practices will likely prove unsuccessful in the long run as well.” The organization pointed out that the changes proposed “do not address or impact the biology of pest populations developing resistance, but only the recognition and identification of such resistance.”

What you can do

Do you disagree with the EPA’s proposed rule? Sign the petition urging Congress to listen to science and not pesticide manufacturers and biotech companies. Are you outraged by the Trump administration’s environmental deregulation? Today is election day. Vote.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash