The EPA approved a pesticide against advice of its own scientists

There's a very long and detailed story up at Grist about evidence for apparent wrongdoing by the Environmental Protection Agency. Here's the short version: Seven years ago, the EPA granted conditional approval to a Bayer pesticide, even though EPA scientists were concerned that it could be toxic to honeybees. Bayer was supposed to conduct a study to determine harm by 2004, but the EPA let them put that off until 2007—which is when Bayer turned in a poorly done bit research, showing, surprise, no impact on bees whatsoever.

But wait, it gets worse.

Language in the paperwork makes it sound like the approval of this pesticide was wholly dependent on the quality and outcome of a study of harm. Leaked documents now show that EPA scientists noticed the problems with the research Bayer gave them, pointed those problems out, and explicitly stated that this evidence didn't count as proof that bees weren't being harmed.

And then the EPA approved the pesticide anyway.

This leaves me furious. Pesticides, in and of themselves, are not inherently evil. But it should be just as obvious that some will be dangerous and we have to make choices and balance risks against benefits, based on scientific evidence. If the agency that's supposed to be handling that job is ignoring evidence and just approving everything? Well, we're pretty screwed.

It's unlikely that this specific pesticide is a silver bullet cause of colony collapse disorder—that was already happening before the pesticide was released. But it could certainly be a contributor. There's evidence that colony collapse disorder is the work of more than one problem—possibly a fungus and a bacteria, but that team could also be aided by weakened bee immune systems. Certain pesticides, including this one, are thought to be able to damage bee immune systems. "Thought to", because, as you've seen, good research hasn't been done yet to know for sure. That's the real problem here. Research and evidence should come before profit margins. And, in this case, things seem to have gone the other way around.

32

  1. Speaking of which, you know those yellow strips that kill pretty much all bugs in sight and will make flies drop dead everywhere? The magic happens through Dichlorvos.

    Very effective in harming humans and should have been banned 25 years ago, but still available. You wanted to find WMD nerve agents in Iraq? Why waste your time when you can just get them at stores in America.

    After 25 years, the EPA still won’t ban a risky pesticide (link)

    America. Exposing your children to nerve agents in the name of corruption and profits for 25 years.

    America, Fuck…. No….

  2. That’s pretty upsetting. I’m all about some scientific research. How can we make the United States appreciate science, discovery and progress more than money? I guess Obama is trying to work on that by having the Mythbusters get a bunch of kids to do a science project together. I think its going to be easier to mold the next generation but what are we going to do with everyone else??

    1. Determining a chemical’s toxicity is a very complex, very expensive process that takes years of study and several rounds of increasingly complex studies, all for a single chemical.

      The number of chemicals we’ve managed to study is not a result of apathy, but of adequate resources.

      Even when EPA isn’t politically compromised, it’s incredibly strapped for cash. Performing anything even approaching a somewhat thorough study of consumer chemical exposure would leave absolutely nothing for any other regulatory efforts.

      1. Resources are a real issue here, along with accountable leadership and evidenced based decision making. As stated above, evaluating the toxicity of a chemical in the environment is complex. The researcher must not only address toxicity of the chemical and how it is transported in the environment but also the toxicity of the products from oxidation or degradation of the chemical. This requires lots of resources that are not being allocated. In 2007, the EPA spends about 600 million on research (1) and development of which approximately 29 million (2) went into pesticide research in 2007. That same year Bayer Crop Science planned on spending 625 million euros (3), ~ $875 million with a 1.4 euro to dollar conversion, on R&D. That is one company outspending the EPA in R&D. If you want a clean environment, you have to invest in the R&D to at least identify the toxicity of the chemicals that we are releasing into it. This may sound like a lot of money, and it is, but it is still less that 1% of the Iraq and Afghanistan annual war budget.

        (1) http://nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/60000J7G.PDF (Page 15)

        (2) http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/2ABB1088FCC3F4068525759E00636280/$File/EPA-SAB-08-008-unsigned.pdf (page 673 for the pesticide bit)

        (3) http://www.bayercropscience.com/bcsweb/cropprotection.nsf/id/AdrDrSuw_EN

  3. Between 2001 and 2009 EPA management routinely overturned recommendations from staff on issues ranging from pesticides to water treatment to the selection of contractors. To misquote E.J. Dionne, “You don’t have to believe the Bush Administration was soft on regulated industries. You only have to be sentient.”

    1. To misquote E.J. Dionne, “You don’t have to believe the Bush Administration was soft on regulated industries. You only have to be sentient.”

      Watch it, a bunch of libertarian corporatist pawns will run in here and via trite semantics and other inane tactics will begin to question you over and over again… “so, uh… what did Bush deregulate?”

      sigh………

      1. If the damage were limited to genuine deregulation, I would sleep soundly at night. The Bush Administration’s failure to enforce existing regulations–not only at EPA, but at other regulatory agencies, including the SEC–represents an even bigger problem.

        1. If the damage were limited to genuine deregulation, I would sleep soundly at night. The Bush Administration’s failure to enforce existing regulations–not only at EPA, but at other regulatory agencies, including the SEC–represents an even bigger problem.

          Agreed for the most part…

          I consider the deregulation and failure to enforce existing regulations heinous in both cases due to the fact that the reasoning behind both was corruption/money ahead of the safety/security of the American people.

          Which caused (and still causes) more harm to the American public is debatable to me, but either way… I wish the American public had enough willpower, strength, self-respect and resolve to hold the Bush administration accountable for these despicable acts perpetrated against them. But, hey… it’s getting close to the SuperBowl… so…

          Anyway… I should shut up… I’m just another radical progressive that hates America, free enterprise or something… ;D

  4. As a beekeeper, I thank you for bringing attention to this matter. Clothianidin should be banned in the US immediately. What’s the use of having scientists at the EPA if nobody is going to listen to them? Honeybees are wonderful creatures who work tirelessly for our benefit and we should protect them in every way possible.

  5. My impression is that the EPA during the Bush years was completely compromised. Has anything changed since then?

    My limited encounter with the EPA has been through furniture sales, and I can tell you that their interest in sustainable furniture is not quite skin-deep. They are much more interested in greenwash fetish products than in real sustainable product. I was recently shown a photo taken by an EPA employee of a table at McDonald’s, and asked to provide a similar product. I questioned whether the surface was really very sustainable because: we don’t know where the oat husks (or whatever they are) come from; we don’t know what kind of bonding agent holds them together; we don’t know anything about the resin used to harden the surface; and the product ships from California. Answer: these look really cool and sustainable, can you sell them or not?

    I chose not to.

  6. Never, never, never trust anything the government tells you.

    Everything they say must be verified, that is why we need transparency and whistleblowers. Without transparency there can be no democracy.

    Assange is not a criminal. He is a hero.

      1. Why do you think those Texas textbook folks are trying to write him out?? For all our invocations of the ‘Founding Fathers,’ they’re darn problematic. Soon it’ll likely be easier to just say the country was founded by Glenn Beck in 2006.

        1. Why do you think those Texas textbook folks are trying to write him out?? For all our invocations of the ‘Founding Fathers,’ they’re darn problematic.

          They seem to hate all kinds of pesky problems the Founding Fathers loved. Freedom of the press lately has been quite the sour taste as well for the corporatist pawns.

    1. I agree that a government’s actions should be looked at skeptically and that transparency is generally the best policy, excepting in cases where widespread information availability would obviously (to a reasonable observer) be more harmful than beneficial (e.g. methods of manufacturing biological and chemical weaponry, names and identifying information of those who have illegally passed sensitive information to our government, exact technical details of military systems, etc.).

      However, problem I see here is that the basic principles of government were subverted and sabotaged by a political philosophy that is anti-government and pro-corporatist, not that the government was operating under cover for its own protection/benefit.

  7. America. Has it always been a lie? And when the Repugnicans take over there will be no oversight. No honey today. No potable tap water tomorrow.

    Whenever I step back and to see the larger picture the silver lining is the first thing that vanishes from view.

  8. As much as I applaud the necessary and healthy indignation and skepticism towards government bureaucracies that such events bring about, I am endlessly surprised that people still come back with ideas to grow said government (more funding) and somehow control it (transparency). Both are cases of investing more resources into inefficient institutions.

    If Consumer Reports did something similar to what is described above for the EPA, there is no doubt that it would suffer more blowback.

    The basic problem is the impossibility of good government (government being characterized as a territorial monopoly on force), even a democratic one (sadly). Of course, that is not what we’re taught (by government schools) growing up, so it’s not an easy or pleasant realization.

    For one thing, if you think corporate incentives are bad, politician and bureaucrat incentives are way worst (promises and lack of accountability, short-term political gain, final interpretation of own rules, ability to define scope of control and monopoly, and cronyism are the name of the game).
    Secondly, even if politicians were benevolent angels (as the term “public servant” assumes), they lack knowledge in two important ways: they don’t know the subjective value which citizens attach to various things, and they lack the distributed knowledge of local conditions and expertise. The first problem can unfortunately not be resolved by polls, because polls involve no actual opportunity cost (people want more of everything, which is no surprise). Reality on the other hand forces choice, due to scarcity (not all projects can be done simultaneously with existing resources).
    Finally, it is impossible to evaluate whether policies produce a net benefit because unquantifiable non-monetary benefits and absence of voluntary participation (when you voluntarily exchange A for B, this is proof that you value what you receive higher, but we can make no such conclusion if the exchange is not voluntary).

    1. And so you recommend…?

      @taj1f: No, America hasn’t always been a lie. It was fine right up to the Whiskey Rebellion…

    2. The system that addresses your concerns was attempted in Europe last century. It didn’t go well for the inefficient minorities who had accumulated so much wealth, but at least the trains ran on time and one man was happy.

    3. Are you saying that we should privatize the EPA since we don’t know the subjective value that citizens would place on environmental regulation? Surely this is a case where it should be obvious that everyone directly benefits from the EPA doing its legally mandated job.

    4. I am endlessly surprised that people still come back with ideas to grow said government (more funding) and somehow control it (transparency). Both are cases of investing more resources into inefficient institutions. … The basic problem is the impossibility of good government (government being characterized as a territorial monopoly on force), even a democratic one (sadly). Of course, that is not what we’re taught (by government schools) growing up, so it’s not an easy or pleasant realization.

      I think you’re endlessly confused. The idea is that more Americans need to get involved within their government and continue to make it a watchdog for the people and by the people. Running away with our tail between our legs is exactly what the corporatists want us to do and to prove it you can look at the millions they spend to help foster everything from libertarians to tea party pawns.

      Follow the money. (link)

      For one thing, if you think corporate incentives are bad, politician and bureaucrat incentives are way worst (promises and lack of accountability, short-term political gain, final interpretation of own rules, ability to define scope of control and monopoly, and cronyism are the name of the game).

      I’ll tackle two points there:

      1) [broken] promises and lack of accountability

      To some degree. But that’s ignoring all the times when things DO WORK. The more the public gets involved, the better it works.

      2) cronyism are the name of the game

      All the more reason for Americans to get involved in their government and fight the worst breed of it.

      even if politicians were benevolent angels (as the term “public servant” assumes), they lack knowledge in two important ways: they don’t know the subjective value which citizens attach to various things, and they lack the distributed knowledge of local conditions and expertise.

      Um, that’s what local government is for and by the way… THIS.

    5. Julien, I disagree that political incentives are in some way intrinsically worse than corporate ones. Politicians at least are still ultimately responsible to the people who vote next in the next election. CEOs are responsible to next quarter’s balance sheet. One of these cares not a fig for me except as someone from which to take, in any way they can, as much of my money as they can. Every objection you name would be much, much worse under a radical libertarian or fascist regime. (You are possibly arguing instead for an anarchic state – I can’t tell from your post – however I have come to accept that, under the current power structures found in our world, such a political system is unachievable and would be unsustainable if it were achievable.)

      Are political methods less efficient than corporate methods? Only in a too-narrow sense of the word “efficient”. Personally, I would be willing to sacrifice quite a bit more for more-universal safety, happiness, and health – these are things that are worth paying for.

      Your second set of objections does not make sense. Any politician worth his/her salt will in fact be acutely aware of what values are held by those they represent, and I am reasonably certain that they do hear, unbelievably often, from their constituents as well as experts on a huge variety of local conditions. This is not the problem, the problem is that the political system and the bureaucracy are being subverted by huge influxes of (corporate) wealth that are seen as necessary to achieve political office and affecting legislation.

      I think your final objection is saying that government is always wrong because it is paid for by taxes. If this is the case, I disagree that a market-based solution for the needs currently met by government would be either more effective or fairer. If it is not, you might want to use less jargon in the future.

    6. I am endlessly surprised that people still come back with ideas to grow said government (more funding) and somehow control it (transparency). Both are cases of investing more resources into inefficient institutions. … The basic problem is the impossibility of good government (government being characterized as a territorial monopoly on force), even a democratic one (sadly). Of course, that is not what we’re taught (by government schools) growing up, so it’s not an easy or pleasant realization.

      The idea is that more Americans need to get involved within their government and continue to make it a watchdog for the people and by the people. Running away with our tail between our legs is exactly what the corporatists want us to do and to prove it you can look at the millions they spend to help foster everything from libertarians to tea party pawns.

      Follow the money.

  9. Re: “There’s evidence that colony collapse disorder is the work of more than one problem—possibly a fungus and a bacteria, but that team could also be aided by weakened bee immune systems.”

    FYI – http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/08/news/honey_bees_ny_times.fortune/index.htm

    “What the Times article did not explore — nor did the study disclose — was the relationship between the study’s lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.”

  10. Yeah, EPA under Bush was fun. There’s an *old* Superfund site a few miles down the road from me. Millions to clean up properly.

    Old?

    The toxins didn’t go away, the standards for toxicity were revised upwards..
    Up to the point to where a certain big-box retailer could buy the property, build their store, without all that concern about the poisons inches below the topsoil. Joy.

  11. “Research and evidence should come before profit margins.” Pfft. What are you, some kind of dirty pinko socialist?

  12. “Deregulation” is a scam.

    Ever since Reagan, the thing called “deregulation” has actually been the imposition of additional regulations. These additional regulations are invariably written to reduce the liability and oversight of entrenched corporate interests while imposing increased burdens on family enterprises or entrepreneurs attempting to enter the “deregulated” field.

    Look it up. It’s called deregulation but one hundred percent of the time it is actually the imposition of new rules and laws that benefit wealthy corporations that bankroll politicians. The number of laws and the number of barriers to entry always increases if you measure by word count.

    When they say “deregulation” it means “grease up, baby, here comes daddy”.

Comments are closed.