PANUPS: Methyl Parathion Illegal Use

                         P A N U P S
                   Pesticide Action Network 
                        North America
                       Updates Service

February 21, 1997

Parathion Disaster in Mississippi -- Update

In response to the methyl parathion disaster in Mississippi, 
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced 
that it is taking steps to stop future use of restricted-use 
pesticides in urban areas. Over 1,500 homes and businesses in 
Mississippi were sprayed with methyl parathion by unlicensed 
pest control operators over a two year period ending in 
November 1996. The only legal uses of methyl parathion are 
for agricultural crops under restricted conditions; all 
indoor uses are prohibited. 

The spraying has resulted in the temporary relocation of over 
1,100 people. In addition, local veterinarians reported 
deaths of household animals due to methyl parathion exposure. 
Eight day care centers, one restaurant and two hotels that 
were sprayed have been closed, and extensive cleanup 
operations are underway as part of EPA's Superfund program. 
Cleanup costs may reach more than US$50 million. Nine 
individuals have been arrested and criminally charged with 
misuse and/or illegal sale of the pesticide. 

In previous years, two similar events have occurred. In 1994, 
homes and businesses were sprayed with methyl parathion in 
Lorain County, Ohio. EPA "decontaminated" 232 homes to 
"habitable conditions" at a cost of more than US$20 million. 
In April, 1995, a similar incident was discovered in Detroit, 
Michigan. Four residences, including a homeless mission, 
required "decontamination and restoration," costing 
approximately US$1 million. 

According to a report in the Clarion-Ledger, a Mississippi 
newspaper, EPA staff had developed a plan for a national 
program to combat the illegal use of agricultural chemicals 
to kill household pests, but were unable to get funding for 
implementation of the program last year. As part of their 
research, EPA staff compiled records of 22 accidental deaths 
since the mid-1960s caused by illegal home use of methyl 
parathion or ethyl parathion. Some of the victims were 
children who died after drinking pesticides from unmarked 
containers or after crawling on floors that had been sprayed.

According to EPA staff, parathion will be the first target of 
the new enforcement strategy. Initially EPA will attempt to 
find the points of diversion from agricultural to urban use 
by examining the chain of distribution. Then by using 
outreach programs to agricultural organizations, EPA will 
emphasize the concept of "good stewardship." EPA and other 
inspectors will also examine urban areas with particularly 
severe pest problems, especially where past abuses have been 

After the illegal spraying in Mississippi, EPA negotiated an 
agreement with Cheminova Agro, the sole U.S. manufacturer of 
parathion and principal registrant, to recall all unopened 
containers of the emulsifiable concentrate of parathion from 
distributors, retailers and users throughout the U.S. 
According to EPA, the recall is expected to be completed by 
the end of February 1997. 

Before the recalled products can be resold, an odor agent 
must be added to make any indoor use "extremely 
disagreeable." According to EPA, this will help consumers 
tell whether the pesticide has been illegally sprayed in 
their home. Tamper-resistant and bar coded containers will be 
required to prevent unapproved use and to allow tracking of 
all containers down to the user level. Cheminova also agreed 
to inform distributors, retailers, growers and consumers on 
proper uses of the pesticide. Mixtures and micro-encapsulated 
formulations of methyl parathion are not included in this 
recall agreement. 

An estimated 4.5 million pounds of methyl parathion are used 
annually in the U.S. Approximately 95% of this is used on 
cotton, soybeans, field corn, peaches, wheat, barley and 
rice, primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, 
Nebraska and Texas.

Parathion is one of PAN International's Dirty Dozen 
pesticides, and has been banned in over 14 countries. From 
the time it was introduced to the U.S. market in 1948, 
parathion has been a leading cause of occupational pesticide 
poisonings. It is an extremely acutely toxic (WHO Class Ia) 
pesticide, a potent neurotoxin that is easily absorbed into 
the body and has also been linked to a wide variety of severe 
acute and chronic health effects including reproductive and 
endocrine disrupting effects.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, PAN North America Program Coordinator 
stated, "Parathion's legacy in the U.S. highlights 
fundamental weaknesses in EPA's pesticide regulatory system. 
Even in a wealthy country with elaborate regulations such as 
the U.S., effectively controlling pesticide use is an elusive 
goal, especially when an extremely hazardous pesticide like 
parathion is involved." 

Sources: EPA Environmental News, January 15, 1997. The 
Clarion-Ledger, November 24, 1996. EPA National Alert, 
December 12, 1996. Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News, January 
15 & January 29, 1997; November 13, December 18 & 25, 1996.
Contact: PANNA

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