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EPA Website Quality, Quantity of Info

Here are my critique/praises for the EPA Pesticide (Office of
Pesticide Programs) website, at to
be so Pesti-Centric, but pesticide news and info is how I earn my
bread and butter).

detailed information on the risks of specific organophosphate
pesticides that are currently under review, as required by the Food
Quality Protection Act.  Considering the huge volume of information
in these risk assessments (some of them are 300-500 pages long!!!)
they do an incredibly good job.

every pesticide registered for use in the U.S., by brand name.
You have to go to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation
to find this.  If California can do it, why can't the federal EPA?

WHAT'S MISSING?  Pesticide enforcement stuff, or some highlighted
link to it. EPA's regional offices and pesticide state lead agencies
are cracking down on pesticide violators who break the FIFRA (Federal
Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) rules every day, but
you'd never know it by reading the OPP website.

READABILITY:  I give it fairly high marks, particularly the most
recent version of the OPP website, because I can look at it in one
glance and know what information is new, which organophosphates
have just been reviewed, which pesticide science policies have just
been issued, and if any new pesticide regulations are open for
public comments.

The middle column of the OPP home page is probably good for
manufacturers who need information on how to register their
pesticides, and for people who want to get detailed information
about the different "niche" areas of the pesticide program, such
as the pesticide safety programs, antimicrobial pesticides (cleaners,
chlorine, disinfectants, etc.), and pesticide labeling.

The "Concerned Citizens" column is good for readibility -- That's
where EPA puts its "quick and dirty" fact sheets about fairly
controversial issues, such as the mosquitocides that are now being
used in New York City and elsewhere to control West Nile Fever
virus, why people shouldn't overuse the insect repellant DEET on
their kids, detailed information behind the pesticide grocery
brochure, etc.

However, I do have some bones to pick with the type of information
on these controversial subjects that EPA's pesticide office has
decided to let the public know about (see below).

I don't like the top yellow bar that alerts readers to pesticide
product recalls, because I find light blue ink on a yellow background
difficult to read.  If I was the agency, I would headline this
important section of the OPP webpage in a larger-type black ink,
so that readers would know right away which pesticides are being
recalled or phased out.  But the decision to put this information
on the top of the webpage is a good one.

2) QUALITY OF INFORMATION -- "What's New" -- Excellent, I can't
praise this enough, because it lets me know right away which EPA
pesticide policies have just been released, and saves me hours of
frustrating phone calls. And the links from here to the rules/policies
are excellent.  But this information can lag behind real time by
a couple of days. Because I have to follow the office's happenings
so obsessively as a reporter, I have sometimes become aware of
issuance of new PR (pesticide registration)Notices, rules, etc.,
3 days to a week before the announcement appears on the EPA website.
It's not unusual, for example, to attend a state pesticide lead
agency meeting and have an EPA pesticide official comment, "Oh, by
the way, the director just signed Pesticide Registeration Notice
2000-*** on inerts in pesticides, it will probably go up on the
EPA website next Wednesday."  So I know there is some lag time
between when information has been announced to pesticide insiders
(states, pesticide manufacturers) and when the general public gets
to see it.  But it is a very short lag time.

MEETINGS -- Glad they are putting some of these notices up there,
but the office is still not getting all the meetings up there in
a timely fashion.  I don't know what the excuse is here, but
sometimes the Pesticide Office will have a meeting planned two
months in advance, but won't tell the public about it on their
website until 1 and half weeks before the meeting.  This is one of
the biggest perennial complaints heard from pesticide stakeholders
(industry, enviro groups, states, etc.)-- they can't get cheap air
flights, good rates on hotel rooms,etc., to attend a pesticide
meeting, because the only meetings announced on the OPP website
two months in advance are FIFRA Science Advisory Panel meetings.
Subsequently, a lot of the smaller pesticide meetings are poorly
attended (it is particularly hard to get enviros to attend these
meetings, which is very sad, because some of these meetings are
where pesticide policy is made).

For example, I heard at a minor pesticide meeting on Tuesday, Sept.
12 that the pesticide office has blocked out the dates of Nov.
28-30 for a gala "Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee" meeting,
to be held in Arlington, Va., and yet notice of that meeting has
still not been posted on the pesticide website.  Even if they don't
know which hotel they will host the meeting at, at least let us
know the city and date for when the meeting is scheduled, so we
can block it out on our calendars.

"CONCERNED CITIZENS" -- These are the EPA Pesticide Fact Sheets
that cover controversial pesticide issues.  They are good for
providing basic information about what some of the controversial
pesticide issues are in a short, readable, questions and answer
format.  HOWEVER (and I realize this is a political statement, but
I just gotta say it) -- The pesticide office, in these fact sheets,
is still struggling with exactly who its most important "customer"
is -- whether that customer is the pesticide registrant (manufacturer),
or the general public.  If the most important customer to OPP is
the pesticide registrant, then the agency is doing a bang-up job
on being sensitive to industry's needs, by putting industry's
pesticides in the most positive light they possibly can.

But for those of us who are worried that some currently registered
pesticides might pose some safety risks -- those pesticide fact
sheets look like public relations snow jobs.  After you read these
fact sheets, you gotta ask yourself -- who exactly is being served
here?  Aren't we paying our taxes to the government, and to EPA,
to protect the public and environment from environmental contaminants?
Even if the agency can't ban a pesticide without going through due
process first, can't it at least warn us if it has information that
the pesticide poses a risk?

But I think that reflects the central dilemma for EPA's Pesticide
Office.  Every pesticide that it currently registers, by definition,
must be "safe," (because at some point it time, it won regulatory
approval by EPA), right up until the day that pesticide is: a)
recalled, because of some product defects that don't come to light
until after a large population is exposed to it; b) voluntarily
cancelled by the registrant (after the agency reviews it, and
realizes it is not quite as safe as originally thought); or c)
phased out (because further scientific studies, or better detection
analytical methods show that it wasn't quite safe to begin with).

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