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
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.
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