The chemicals -- known as organophosphates -- are used extensively in agriculture to keep pests off fruit and vegetable crops, and have been the target of environmentalist campaigns saying they are hazardous to children's health. Environmental advocates say the chemicals have been linked to neurological and fertility problems, as well as cancer.
Margaret Reeves, a scientist with San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network, says continued use of organophosphates "represents an egregious abandonment of EPA's mission to protect the health and well-being of children, farm workers and rural residents," who are the "most likely to suffer the short- and long-term health consequences of the continued use of these hazardous neurotoxins."
Jim Gulliford, assistant EPA administrator with the pesticide program, says, "We believe the approved tolerances [of organophosphates] neither individually or collectively make our food unsafe." A July 31 EPA memo says, "...the cumulative risks associated with exposures to all of the [chemicals]...meet the safety risk standard" of the federal food protection law.
EPA critics say the agency has given in to pressure from the chemical and food industries, and has ignored the chemicals' harm to children, as no tests have been performed to analyze the potential harm of unknown combinations and synergies of organophosphates. "The EPA says the cumulative risks are not an issue, but nobody has scientifically studied the cumulative risks," says Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate. "They have data proving these chemicals are safe. They're only guessing. And that means they're also playing Russian roulette with the health and safety of American farmers and consumer who are exposed to these chemicals."