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Arsenic Pesticides: Still Legal (UPDATED)

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Aug 17, 2010 at 18:14:42 PM PDT

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Did you know that arsenic pesticides are still legal? The EPA actually tried to ban several organic arsenicals in 2006, but then caved to cotton industry lobbying and decided in 2009 to continue allowing a pesticide called monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA) on cotton. And all this went down without a peep from the sustainable ag community (as far as I'm aware). More below.

UPDATE: One more thought to add to this. The reason why cotton growers were so adamant that they need to use MSMA is because the weeds have evolved resistance to Roundup. With most cotton in the U.S. getting doused with Roundup because it's genetically engineered Roundup Ready cotton, no wonder the weeds evolved resistance. So there's the result. Arsenic. And the biotech industry markets its products by saying that GE seeds result in less pesticide use.

Jill Richardson :: Arsenic Pesticides: Still Legal (UPDATED)
As you may know, I've been doing some work for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) on sewage sludge. Right now I've been going through a LONG list of nasty chemicals found in sludge and creating pages for them on Sourcewatch, the wiki site maintained by CMD. Today, I thought I'd take a few minutes and add a little bit about arsenic-based pesticides on the arsenic page. It wouldn't take long. I'd just crack open my copy of The War on Bugs by Will Allen, get the info, write a paragraph or two, and I'd be done. Or so I thought.

You can see what I wrote here. My point of writing this up, I thought, was because arsenic was once used on food crops so much that many, if not most, Americans had measurable levels of arsenic in their bodies and even symptoms of mild to severe poisoning. Because arsenic is an element, it can't just break down and go away. I planned to wrap up my paragraph or two on arsenic with the date when arsenical pesticides were banned in the U.S.

Except, there wasn't a date given in the book. That's because, when the book was published two years ago several arsenicals were still legal. What??? Time to use the Google.

Google brought me to an EPA page from 2009, telling about the EPA's 2006 decision to ban several chemicals and their 2009 change of heart to continue allowing MSMA use on cotton. Additionally, MSMA can be used on golf courses, sod farms, and highway right-of-ways through the end of 2013.

So, if organic arsenicals are mostly illegal, how about inorganic arsenicals? Turns out two of those are still legal as well. Specifically, arsenic acid and arsenic pentoxide. Plus, of course, the use of roxarsone (an arsenical) on chickens. In other words, we're still putting plenty of arsenic in our environment, although less than before. Amazing, huh? This makes me wonder what ELSE we don't know.

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What you don't know about is listed as an intert (4.00 / 3)
Inert's is the category where nasty secrets are hidden when it comes to chemical pesticides.

Less than  10 years ago the organic community discovered that DDT was being used as a bulking agent in pesticides, but was listed as an inert.

Deception & BS is deep and wide when it comes to pesticides; many banned pesticides are given an EPA exemption for provisional use year, after year, after year so the ban is BS.  

SO TRUE nt (4.00 / 2)

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
that's a really helpful article you wrote (4.00 / 1)
for Sourcewatch. Read it before I commented :-)

"If God were to appear to starving people, he would not dare to appear in any other form than food." - Mahatma Gandhi

[ Parent ]
after, not before (4.00 / 1)

"If God were to appear to starving people, he would not dare to appear in any other form than food." - Mahatma Gandhi

[ Parent ]
Interesting (4.00 / 1)
"Paris Green" is one name for arsenical pesticides (also paint, there were a lot of things they did with Paris Green).

I've long sort of vaguely wondered whether arsenic was still being used. I'm glad you picked up on this; it's important.

"If God were to appear to starving people, he would not dare to appear in any other form than food." - Mahatma Gandhi

Two more arsenic references (4.00 / 1)
Here are two more items that you might want to note in your Source Watch piece:  

1)  A short paper in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives by researchers from Johns Hopkins University summarized the problems created by the use of arsenic in chicken feed.  They write: "The U.S. Geological Survey has calculated, based on arsenic concentrations measured in poultry waste, that between 250,000 and 350,000 kg arsenic is annually applied to land in the United States (Rutherford et al. 2003). Although roxarsone, the predominant arsenical added to poultry feed, is an organoarsenical, there is strong evidence that the drug is converted into inorganic arsenic within the chicken (Arai et al. 2003) and is also rapidly transformed into inorganic arsenic in wastes and soils (Garbarino et al. 2003). Elevations in soil arsenic levels have been reported in fields where poultry wastes have been applied (Gupta and Charles 1999). This form of arsenic is readily leachable and may therefore move into groundwater (Rutherford et al. 2003)."

The full paper (which lists references cited above in full, of course) is available for free at the journal's website.

2) A piece called The Apple Bites Back: Claiming Old Orchards for Residential Development, also in Environmental Health Perspectives looks at the health risks of living or gardening on lands that used to be orchards during the days when lead arsenate was a significant pesticide.

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