The Bush Administration has announced its concurrence with a court agreement establishing guidelines for the Environmental Protection Agency in reviewing how agricultural pesticides affect children's health.

The president has also said he will support the U.S. signing an international treaty to ban a “dirty dozen” of toxic chemicals, including several pesticides.

Although the crop protection industry opposed the court settlement, saying it would mean the loss of some of agriculture's most effective and economical pesticides, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said her agency had little leeway in the consent decree that was negotiated with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the last hours of the Clinton Administration.

The NRDC and other groups had sued the EPA when it failed to meet deadlines for completion of a 1996 congressionally-mandated review of the safety tolerances for more than 10,000 pesticides, particularly those that posed higher risks for infants and children.

Under the agreement, the EPA must develop a timetable to evaluate 11 pesticides deemed the most hazardous. “We have set specific milestones for reviewing certain pesticides,” Whitman said, “and EPA will meet the deadlines required by the Food Quality Protection Act to reassess existing pesticides using current health and safety standards.”

She said the agency will use “a rigorous scientific review process” that will include extensive opportunity for public involvement and comment “to insure that all perspectives are heard.”

The agency will also have to develop guidelines to better protect farm workers from certain pesticides.

In announcing the Bush administration's intent to sign the international agreement to ban the “dirty dozen” of toxic chemicals that include several agricultural pesticides, the U.S. would become the third signatory.

Many of the chemicals, such as DDT, aren't used any more in the United States or other developed nations, but some continue to be used in developing nations.

The Bush administration's support for the treaty calling for a worldwide ban on the 12 materials was timed to mesh with the annual celebration of Earth Day (Sunday, April 22).

Included in the “dirty dozen,” in addition to DDT, are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), found in electrical transformers and other industrial components; dioxins and furans that are byproducts of various industrial processes and waste burning; and the pesticides toxaphene, aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin, heptachlor, endrin, mirex, and hexaclorobenzene.

Production and use of nine of the materials would be banned under the treaty, tentatively set to be signed next month in Stockholm, Sweden. Canada and Sweden have already signed the pact. It is expected, however, that it will take “four to five years” for the treaty, which was developed by the United Nations Environment Program, to go into effect.

An international fund of approximately $150 million will be established to assist countries in developing substitutes for the banned chemicals.

In the interim, use of DDT would still be allowed in some 25 countries in malaria control programs operated under World Health Organization supervision.

hembree_brandon@intertec.com