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The Carcinogenic Threat to Children from the Massachusetts Pesticide Law

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2020 February Issue Newsletter

By Donald Sutherland

UPDATE from NOFA/Mass Policy Director, Marty Dagoberto: On January 31st, 2020 the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture passed H.791, mentioned below! Supporters should contact and THANK legislators and ask them to push for the bill to voted on by the full house ASAP. Stay tuned for more updates in next month's newsletter.

Parents who fear that the pesticides applied on school playing fields are a health threat to their children are having those concerns justified by scientific studies.

Glyphosate and 2,4-D are the most commonly used herbicides on school grass playing fields to kill weeds, and they are a carcinogenic health risk to children according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

If the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed with the IARC, the two chemicals would be banned from childcare grounds, schools, and municipal property under Massachusetts’ pesticide law.

Under the Protection of Children and Families from Harmful Pesticides Control Act 333 CMR, (amending the 1978 Massachusetts Pesticide Control Act (MGL 132B), Section 6G), the only pesticide products eligible for outdoor use at schools, childcare centers, and school age child care programs are those not classified as known, likely or probable human carcinogens by the EPA. 

But, the EPA claims glyphosate and 2,4-D are not carcinogenic.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) supports the IARC carcinogenic assessment of glyphosate. 

And still, the EPA maintains that glyphosate is not a health risk to the public.

So, who is a parent to believe? The US EPA, or the International Agency for Cancer Research and the US ATSDR under the CDC?

A coalition of state legislators, environmental and community organizations are claiming the EPA has failed to protect the most vulnerable population from toxic carcinogenic chemicals used in common lawn treatments. 

The coalition, organized by the Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA/Mass) and Toxics Action Center, testified on 11/12/19 in support of a bill currently pending in the joint Committee on Environmental Natural Resources and Agriculture which would stop the practice of using all toxic herbicides and pesticides on school and town owned grass playing fields.

State representative Carmine Gentile’s bill H.791 (An Act Relative to Improving Pesticide Protections for Massachusetts School Children) mandates the use of only EPA approved minimal risk substances, such as those used on organic farms and landscapes, to replace the current use of toxic chemical pesticides at childcare and school playing fields.

EPA identified minimal risk substances under 40 CFR 152.25 (f) (Code of Federal Regulations), such as cedarwood oil, citronella, corn gluten meal, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, and citric acid, don’t pose the severity of toxicity as EPA registered pesticides. 

H.791 is a transition into Commonwealth law MGL c.132B Sec.5A that calls for promotion of biologic control, reduction and elimination of human and environmental exposure to pesticides and promoting alternative pest control methods. 

Under the current Massachusetts Pesticide Control Act (MGL c.132B), publicly owned school and childcare grass playing fields are treated not with minimal risk, but with high risk lawn pesticides the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims are safe.

School grounds keepers and contractors have applied glyphosate and 2,4-D annually with little regard to health safety until in 2018 a California school grounds keeper won a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the manufacturer of the herbicide using glyphosate in the product Roundup, claiming it caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer.

Since that California federal court settlement, the chemical manufacturer Monsanto and its parent company Bayer face over 40,000 glyphosate cancer related cases.  The US EPA and Justice Department are backing Bayer and want the federal appeals court to throw out the court settlement. 

I asked the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), who sit on the Massachusetts Pesticide Board regulating pesticides in the state, for their opinion on the safety of glyphosate and 2,4-D.

MDPH legal counsel told me only the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Crop and Pest Services Division on the Pesticide Board has the jurisdiction for regulating pesticides in the state.

When I asked the MDAR Director of Crop and Pest Services if they recognize the IARC and ATSDR listing of carcinogens she said, “currently we only work off of the EPA list.”

There are plenty of reasons for the public to doubt the safety of glyphosate and 2,4-D, which are not on the EPA list of carcinogens.

Currently, the US allows 85 pesticides banned in the European Union, including the EPA re-approval of lawn herbicides atrazine and chlorpyrifos.

Legislators and environmentalists claim the EPA toxicity science review process is not independent but compromised by a conflict of interest between pesticide manufacturers and the federal government

The EPA relies on the agrochemical industry-funded toxicity studies of pesticides, hiding corporate ‘proprietary’ data from peer review, while the IARC is independent of chemical manufacturers and reviews only research in the public domain available for scientific peer review.

Recent California court documents have revealed Monsanto’s multiple tactics to influence EPA regulators to arrive at pro-Roundup conclusions.

The company used its own ghostwriting for some safety reviews, hid cancer risk data, and ran campaigns to smear scientists and defund the IARC.

And in 2019, Germany, where the glyphosate manufacturers Bayer and BASF have their global headquarters, announced a unilateral ban of glyphosate, the pesticide the EPA, MDAR, and MDPH claims is safe.

Throughout the Commonwealth, towns and cities are banning the use of pesticides on their school athletic playing fields.

The City of Springfield has 19 organic athletic grass playing fields and Boston public schools have an unofficial ban on glyphosate and 2,4-D.

The local boards of health in the towns of AshlandWellesley, and Marblehead used the statutes of Massachusetts General Law (MGL) 111, Section 122 to enact organic pest management plans to legally ban all toxic pesticides on school and municipal grounds.

MDAR and MDPH both acknowledge only local Boards of Health have the authority to enact stricter than federal and state pesticide regulations on public grounds under MGL 111, Sec. 122, to determine whether an activity constitutes a nuisance injurious to public health to ban toxic pesticides on publicly owned school and municipal grounds.

The towns of Andover, Chatham, Eastham, Falmouth, Newburyport, Orleans, Reading, Sandwich, Townsend, Warwick, Wellfleet, and Westford have passed local ordinances restricting the use of pesticides on municipal property.

Activists are urging the public who are concerned their children are not being protected from school and municipal ground use of toxic chemicals to contact their legislators to pass H.791 out of committee by the 2/5 deadline for legislation.

Take action now by using this action page and pass it on.

Update: see NOFA/Mass’s announcement of H.791 passing the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

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