Acronym Soup…FIFRA, hold the DDT
By Shawn Henderson
Recently a friend introduced me to a website called Reddit. For those who are unfamiliar with Reddit, it’s basically a forum message board on steroids. Redditors can post news articles, images, links, etc. in all different topic areas. Trust me; you can spend hours looking through the different stories and images many of which are amusing at times. Several days ago I was perusing one of the sections and ran across the picture below, which appears to be from a 1950’s magazine article. Ah yes the 1950’s, sock hops, soda fountains, drive-in movies… and DDT? I poked around a little more and found several You-Tube videos of DDT being applied to swimming pools with kids still in them and even one of a gentleman spraying DDT on a carrot and then proceeding to eat it portraying its relative safety. Needless to say we have learned a lot since the 50s.
EPA is responsible for regulating pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The beginnings of FIFRA actually date way back to a 1910 pesticide control law, with FIFRA itself being passed in 1947. In its earliest incarnation FIFRA was mostly concerned with labeling to ensure that folks were getting actual pesticides like DDT and not watered down ineffective products.
In 1972 FIFRA was re-written when it was amended by the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (FEPCA) and has been amended numerous times since 1972, including some significant amendments in the form of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996. In its current form, FIFRA mandates that EPA regulate the use and sale of pesticides to protect human health and preserve the environment. Under FIFRA, EPA is specifically authorized to: (1) strengthen the registration process by shifting the burden of proof to the chemical manufacturer, (2) enforce compliance against banned and unregistered products, and (3) promulgate a regulatory framework missing from the original law. You can learn more about EPA’s role with FIFRA at EPA’s Pesticide website.
Much has changed since the 1950s. DDT has been classified as a probable human carcinogen and has been found to be persistent in the environment. It is one chemical in a suite of pesticides that we look for when analyzing samples of water quality. In my role as EPA Region 7’s STORET (Water Quality Storage and Retrieval System), I get a chance to see all of the water quality data for the Region, and thankfully, we have noticed a downward trend in DDT concentrations over the years, especially in fish tissue. USGS’s National Water Quality Assessment Program has found the same thing. However, the picture above should serve as a constant reminder of the need to continue to monitor for chemicals in our environment and study their relationship with human health. Something we think of as great today, might not be so good thirty years from now.
Shawn Henderson is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch of the Environmental Services Division. He is a part of the Aqua Team, and conducts water quality sampling around the Region’s four states. He has a Computer Science degree from Park University and helped to develop the Region’s KCWaterBug app and kcwaters.org.
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