Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides that kill pests such as insects, bacteria, viruses, weeds, fungi, and mice. Lawn and garden products (weed killers), ant and cockroach baits, insect repellents, and bathroom disinfectants are common pesticides. Most pesticides are chemical in nature but the number of biological pesticides, such as pheromones and microbes, is growing because they are safer than chemical pesticides.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Role
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with determining that a pesticide does not pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. If studies support a product’s lack of unreasonable risks, the EPA registers the pesticide and permits its use.
Pesticides on Food May Cause Birth Defects
Research has shown that birth defects, nerve damage, and cancer can occur from extended exposure to pesticides. Infants and children may be particularly sensitive to the effects of pesticides because of their developing bodies.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Limits Pesticide Residue on Food
Under the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (Act), pesticide use on food is limited to chemicals reasonably certain not to pose a risk of harm to humans. The Act requires the EPA to evaluate a person’s overall exposure to pesticides (in food, water, and the air) in setting standards for food-related pesticide use. The EPA standards limit the amount of pesticide residue that is allowed to stay on food. Older pesticides are being reviewed to determine if they meet the stricter standards. Federal inspectors check food to make certain the pesticide residue limits (called tolerances by the EPA) are not exceeded.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Farm Workers Protection Standard
In 1992, the EPA began implementing a worker protection standard which affects approximately four million agricultural workers. Livestock producers are also covered by the standard. The goal is to limit workers’ overall exposure to pesticides. The standard includes safety training for workers. States are free to adopt stricter standards.