Popular termite pesticide withdrawn from U.S. market

Published October 1, 2000

Dow AgroSciences has reached an agreement with EPA to voluntarily withdraw from the U.S. residential market its chlorpyrifos products, including the popular pesticide Dursban, a treatment for termites. Use of the products affected by the agreement will be allowed until existing stocks are depleted.

On May 17, the Natural Resources Defense Council ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, claiming “Dursban, one of America’s most pervasive pesticides, is hazardous to our kids.” The ad cited a Minnesota study, which reported that 92 percent of schoolchildren have traces of Dursban in their urine. “That’s hardly surprising,” said the NRDC ad, as “schools commonly use pesticides and farmers widely spray Lorsban, the agricultural equivalent of Dursban, on fruits and vegetables. . . .Only a total ban on this hazardous product will protect America’s children.”

On June 2, just six days before agreeing to withdraw Dursban from residential use, Dow issued a press release denouncing EPA for requiring the company to study Dursban’s effect on rats, using dosages far exceeding the level to which humans would be exposed.

Dow noted the rats received “two hundred times the exposure that people would typically receive from labeled use of Dursban products. This would be the equivalent of making more than two hundred applications of these products in your own home in a single day. This would cost you $7,000.”

Dow spokesman Garry Hamlin told Environment & Climate News that EPA required the test to “see if rats are more sensitive than people.” The agency required the product be given to the rats not in food, but directly through a tube into the stomach. The study found the product caused “brain damage” in fetal rats.

The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA) fundamentally changed the way pesticides are regulated in the U.S. According to Dow, it was evident EPA intended to use the FQPA to justify more stringent standards than it had applied in the past, and more restrictive than those established by the scientific community, the World Health Organization, and other developed countries.

Elin Miller, vice president of Dow AgroSciences’ urban pest business, noted, “Unfortunately we found that continued efforts to retain certain uses of chlorpyrifos in the U.S. no longer made business sense in the current regulatory environment. We ultimately felt that we had to reach an agreement with EPA for the use of these products in the U.S., but this does not change our conviction on the safety of chlorpyrifos for all labeled uses.”

Hamlin told Environment & Climate News the company made a “business decision” to not fight EPA in court.

Retail sales of chlorpyrifos products for termite eradication in existing homes in the U.S. will be allowed until December 31, 2001, or until retail stocks are depleted. Use of the products in the U.S. by licensed pest control firms for treatment of termite problems will be allowed until December 31, 2002. The products will remain available in the U.S. to “pre-treat” new residential construction until December 31, 2005.

For future pest deterrence around the home, said Dow spokespersons, consumers will need to find pest-specific insecticides. Dursban, by contrast, was a general product that killed many types of insects.

Chlorpyrifos will remain available in the U.S. for nonresidential uses, such as golf courses, as well as for application on all crops in the U.S. except tomatoes.