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June 8, 2005 - Suit Claims Farmworkers' Children at Risk

Environmental and labor special interest groups filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA on Tuesday alleging its failure to protect farmworkers' children against pesticide exposure endangers hundreds of thousands of children.

The suit is the latest in an ongoing push to hold the EPA responsible for pesticide levels.  The suit said that more than 50 organizations across the nation had asked the Environmental Protection Agency to amend current standards to account for the most exposed and susceptible members of society, children. The EPA has never responded, the suit said.

The EPA establishes maximum residue levels for various types of pesticides on food sold to the public. The Food Quality Protection Act, passed in 1996, requires the agency to take particularly vulnerable groups into account and to set tolerance levels that protect infants and children from harm.

Not so, the agency said in a statement.

"EPA applies rigorous scientific standards in its pesticide tolerance and registration decisions to ensure the protection of human health, including farmworkers and the environment, as well as the safety of the food supply," the EPA said. "We believe that the agency's tolerance and registration decisions are protective of children's health and fully meet the toughest scientific and legal standards under the Food Quality Protection Act."

EPA's response did not mention the 1998 petition seeking special consideration for children of farmworkers. The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the EPA to respond to the petition within 90 days.

The 1998 petition asked the EPA to classify farm children as a group at special risk from pesticides. Such a change, which would take into account the susceptibilities of children's bodies and the pesticides they already encounter in their lives, could lead the agency to lower the maximum residue levels allowed for all consumers.

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