Reducing Exposure to Residues of Canceled Pesticides Gao ID: RCED-95-23 December 28, 1994

Because the residues of most pesticides do not linger in the environment, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believe that most marketed foods do not contain unsafe levels of residues from canceled pesticides. However, the residues of a few long-canceled chlorinated pesticides continue to appear, especially in fish. An EPA study shows that for five canceled chlorinated pesticides, consumers of some fish may be exposed, over a lifetime, to health risks that exceed the agency's standard of negligible risk--under which the risk of an additional case of cancer does not exceed one in one million. EPA proposed lower action levels in 1991 for residues of the five canceled pesticides, but the Food and Drug Administration believed that EPA had not given enough weight to the residues' unavoidability. Although both agencies believe that the existing action levels should be lowered, neither has taken further steps to do so. EPA does not revoke a pesticide's tolerances at the same time it cancels the pesticide's registrations for food use. On average, the agency has taken more than six years to revoke the tolerances for canceled pesticides. The establishment of procedures linking revocation to cancellation would provide for more efficient revocation actions and would reduce the possibility that consumers might eat imported foods containing residues of pesticides that EPA no longer considers acceptable for use on food crops.

GAO found that: (1) EPA believes that most marketed foods do not contain unsafe levels of residues from cancelled pesticides, since most pesticides do not persist in the environment for very long; (2) residues from a particular class of cancelled pesticides do persist, particularly in fish, and pose a health risk to some consumers over their lifetimes; (3) in 1991, EPA proposed lower action levels for five cancelled pesticides in fish to reflect the decline in actual residue levels; (4) the reduced action levels have not been implemented because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that EPA has not fully demonstrated the need for lower action levels; (5) many state monitoring programs would be affected by lower action levels, since they use federal standards in issuing fish consumption advisories; (6) EPA has taken over 6 years to revoke tolerances for cancelled pesticides; (7) the process for revoking tolerances takes too long and makes inefficient use of scare resources; (8) linking residue revocations to pesticide cancellations would be more efficient and would reduce consumers' exposure to pesticide residues in imported food; and (9) although EPA has made progress in revoking tolerances for cancelled pesticides, its revocation backlog is expected to increase because of additional pesticide registration cancellations.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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