Few chemicals have had as much impact or been the subject of as much controversy in recent decades as pesticides. Introduced on a massive scale following World War II, pesticides have become an integral part of American agricultural production, making possible the most plentiful and safest food supply in human history. Over time; however, public concerns have mounted about the toxic effects of chemical pesticides. Pesticide residues in food, farmworker exposure to pesticides, and pesticide contamination of groundwater have all contributed to a growing unease over the widespread use of pesticides.
Some of these concerns have had beneficial results. Consumers are using more caution in handling pesticides and in limiting their exposures to pesticides in food. In the agricultural community, many growers are using fewer chemical pesticides and adopting a more integrated approach to managing pests. And new pesticides coming on the market tend to be less toxic than the chemicals they replace. While all of these are encouraging signs, pesticides nevertheless remain a fact of our daily lives. Managing pesticides to minimize their risks and maximize their benefits is the task we face.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been charged by Congress with the job of regulating the use of pesticides and balancing the risks and benefits posed by pesticide use.
To carry out this task, EPA has developed a variety of regulatory and educational programs to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of pesticides. These include registering pesticides for specific uses; setting tolerances for pesticide residues on food; setting standards to protect workers who are exposed to pesticides; certifying and training pesticide applicators; and education consumers about pesticide use and exposure.
Overview of EPA's Role
EPA regulates the use of pesticides in the United States under the authority of two laws -- the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. No pesticide may legally be sold or used in the United States unless it bears an EPA registration number. It is a violation of the law for any person to use a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its label.
EPA 's pesticide regulations cover:
- Some 30 major pesticide producers plus another 100 smaller producers
- 3,300 formulators
- 29,000 distributors and other establishments
- 40,000 commercial pest control firms
- About 1 million farms
- Several million industry and government users
- About 90 million households.
FIFRA gives EPA the authority and responsibility for registering pesticides for specified uses, provided that such uses do not pose an unreasonable risk to human health or to the environment. EPA also has the authority to suspend or cancel the registration of a pesticide if subsequent information indicates that use of the pesticide would pose unreasonable risks.