PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Feds Considering 'Extremely Hazardous' Pesticide For Florida Citrus

Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering an application from AgLogic to allow Florida citrus growers to use the pesticide aldicarb, which is classified as "extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization -- its highest toxicity category.

Growers in the United States were prohibited from using it on citrus in 2010 and it’s banned in about 100 countries, although AgLogic was approved to use the chemical on a small subset of other crops in the U.S.

Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said this is “really nasty stuff” because it is persistent and gets into the groundwater.

“Studies that EPA has analyzed indicate that it can harm the developing brain of the fetus or young child at very, very, very low doses,” he said. “And so, doses that were estimated to be in the water or on people's food, as a result of using it in 2010, EPA found that those residues were higher than what the agency estimated could cause harm to a developing child.”

Donley said it’s "crazy" that this country is going in the opposite direction.

"Not only have we not banned it, we're considering expanding its use,” he said. “I think that's extremely radical, and I don't think it's something that should even be remotely considered in this country."

If the manufacturer’s application is approved, it would allow use of the neurotoxin on up to 400,000 acres of orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime trees in Florida and Texas.

Florida's citrus industry has been battling the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that has been decimating production.

Companies typically won't submit an application unless they have received some assurances that it will be approved, according to Donley.

"When a pesticide company submits an application to EPA, they generally have to provide a lot of testing, and this is very expensive -- can be in the millions of dollars,” he said. “And so for a company to put in this type of investment, they want to have an indication that they're going to get a payout at the end."

A final decision will be made by the Biden administration in about a year, Donley expects.

“There’s a lot of scientists working at EPA who had worked very hard to get this voluntary phase out in 2010 and, rightly so, really hate aldicarb and know how bad it is,” he said.

“I know there are champions in that agency that don't want to see this happen, and so we'll just have to see what ends up happening. I am cautiously optimistic … Unfortunately, there's a lot of influence by the chemical industry, in this office, particularly.”

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.