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EPA Seeking Comments on Minimum Risk Pesticide Program

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it’s requesting public comments for possible policy changes related to minimum risk pesticide exemptions. If you regularly use pesticides classified as “minimum risk” and are therefore not regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), read on to learn more about the potential changes and how to submit a comment!

The EPA’s ANPR

In an effort to improve and streamline the Minimum Risk Pesticide Program (and other exemptions codified under regulation 40 CFR 152.25), the EPA has released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) with this mouthful of a title: “Pesticides; Modification to the Minimum Risk Pesticide Listing Program and Other Exemptions under FIFRA Section 25(b).”

This ANPR invites the public to provide input on specific questions related to many aspects of the minimum risk program, from the petition process to exemption selection. I’ve taken this daunting policy document and did my best to simplify it so you can “jump around” and look at whatever questions relate to you and your work. 

The public has until July 7, 2021 to submit comments. Once you’ve read through some questions, click here to share your suggestions!

The Petition Process

Here’s an overview of the current minimum risk petition process:

Under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the public can petition the EPA to consider whether a new substance should be added to the list of active or inert ingredients eligible for the minimum risk pesticide exemption. 

If the EPA decides to grant a petition, it publishes a proposed rule (also known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or NPRM) that the public can comment on. 

The EPA then considers the comments received on the proposed rule, sometimes making revisions based on those comments, and issues a final rule.

Petition Process Questions

Now, with this ANPR, the EPA invites the public to comment on this petition process and how it relates to the Minimum Risk Pesticide Program by answering these questions:

  1. Do you have any suggestions for improving the processes for initiating a review of a substance or for implementing a decision that a substance may be used or may no longer be used in a minimum risk pesticide process? Please explain how changes could increase efficiencies.
  2. Given the identified minimum risk characteristics of these products and anticipated low impacts on communities, are current approaches effective for seeking input from the public and stakeholders, including State, Tribal, and territorial officials, scientists, labor unions, environmental advocates, and environmental justice organizations? Are there particular approaches that are more or less effective?

Evaluation of Minimum Risk Pesticide Ingredients

When determining whether or not to grant a minimum risk petition, the EPA applies the risk assessment factors described in the March 1996 Minimum Risk Exemption final rule, as well as additional factors currently relevant to pesticide risk assessment. 

The risk factors from March 1996 include:

  • Whether the pesticidal substance is widely available to the general public for other uses
  • If it is a common food or constituent of a common food
  • If it has a nontoxic mode of action
  • If it is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe
  • If there is no information showing significant adverse effects
  • If its use pattern will result in significant exposure
  • If it is likely to be persistent in the environment.

Along with the risk factors listed above, the EPA also routinely considers the following additional factors: 

  • Is likely to have carcinogenic or endocrine disruptor properties?
  • Is likely to cause human health developmental, reproductive, mutagenic, or neurotoxicity issues?
  • Is a known allergen or a known allergenic source or a potential allergen?
  • Is associated with developmental toxicity/adverse effects to mammals, birds, aquatic organisms, insects, plants?
  • Does it produce or could produce toxic degradates?
  • Does it have the potential to be contaminated with toxic or allergenic impurities?

Evaluation Questions

Environmental justice and pollution prevention directives will continue to be a part of the regulatory planning process for the Minimum Risk Pesticide Listing Program, but the EPA wants public comments on these questions:

  1. Considering the previous discussion, should the factors discussed above be considered in determining whether a substance should be exempted from FIFRA regulation via the minimum risk exemption?
  2. How would these other factors be weighed in a minimum risk determination?
  3. Are there other policies that the EPA should consider in determining whether a substance should be exempt from FIFRA regulation via the Minimum Risk Pesticide Listing Program? For example, should the EPA consider additional environmental justice and pollution prevention policies?
  4. When considering products that are a “minimum risk” to public health and the environment, should the product also be considered to be of low impact to all communities, including low-income and minority populations? Please explain why or why not.

Exempted Classes of Pesticides

In some cases, the EPA has exempted minimum risks products with pesticidal properties and uses separately from the list of minimum risk pesticide ingredients. One example includes unrefined natural products that lack a specific formulation but serve a specific application, such as pheromone traps.

In the context of this ANPR, the EPA is looking for comments on an unrefined natural product which currently lacks a specific formulation: peat. 

Peat is an accumulation of partially decomposed organic material found in peatlands or bogs. It can be used as fuel, in gardening, and in certain types of septic filtration systems. While the use of peat in septic systems may be intended for a pesticidal (antimicrobial) purpose, it has been suggested that registration of such uses may not be necessary to carry out the purposes of FIFRA.

Exemption Questions

The EPA would like comments on the following questions on the current classes of pesticide exemptions found in 40 CFR 152.25 or on other aspects of the Minimum Risk Pesticides Listing Program.

  1. The EPA broadly requests comment on the utility, clarity, functioning, and implementation of the provisions in 40 CFR 152.25.
  2. Are there other pesticidal substances or systems, like peat as mentioned above, that EPA should consider adding as a new class at 40 CFR 152.25 for exemption from registration under FIFRA? How do these other pesticidal substances or systems meet the existing factors?
  3. What other factors should EPA consider in determining whether a category or class of products should be exempted from FIFRA regulation? Please explain how these other factors should be weighed in a determination.
  4. When considering whether a category or class of products are a “minimum risk” to public health and the environment, should the category or class of products also be considered as being of low impact to all communities, including low-income and minority populations? Are there other factors that the Agency should consider?

Next Steps

After the public comment period ends on Jul 7, 2021, the EPA will review all the responses and determine whether or not to propose any additions or modifications to the Minimum Risk Pesticide Listing Program.

If the EPA decides to move forward with changes to the program, the next step would be to identify, develop, and evaluate specific options for amending the current regulations then issue a proposed rule for another round of public review and comment gathering.

Now that you’ve read the questions, remember to submit your comments before July 7, 2021!


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