Discord Over EPA Pesticide Report May Trigger Congressional Probe

Accusing the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) of "obfuscating the truth," Congressman Gary Ackerman declared last week that the federal agencys preliminary report calling the pesticide malathion safe leaves many unanswered questions and he is considering an investigation into its handling of the probe.
The Bayside Democrat told The Queens Courier in an exclusive interview that he is planning to summon EPA officials next week in Washington to explain the preliminary risk assessment study they released on May 12.
He noted that earlier a U.S. Department of Agriculture official familiar with the EPA study, Harold Smith, had written a Virginia toxicologist that malathion was a "low level human carcinogen." Ackerman obtained the letter and questioned EPA officials about the document, "but I was stonewalled."
In an apparent change of heart, the EPA issued a 1,000-page "preliminary" assessment last week calling the product safe, but acknowledging it had produced cancerous tumors in laboratory animals. The agency said if malathion is used in compliance with label instructions, it poses no risk to humans.
The Congressman dismissed a New York Post editorial that accused him and Congressman Joseph Crowley of "outrageously misinforming the public about a possible threat to its health."
He called the editorial an attempt by City Hall to "get me to back off this issue, but I will pursue it to the end. Im tenacious."
Ackerman also took sharp issue with government claims that last summers spraying "made no one ill." The Congressman said "I know first hand that many Queens residents were sickened by the bombardment of malathion."
He also was highly critical that former EPA officials had taken positions in the pesticide firms they formerly regulated.
Other critics have complained that pesticide industry leaders succeeded in "toning down an original EPA report that malathion was a likely human carcinogen."
Crowley also expressed concern about the "convoluted" nature of the EPA study.
Told by The Queens Courier about an EPA decision to impanel an international group of scientific investigators to review the malathion study, Crowley said he approved of that action.
"Were concerned, however," Crowley said, "because earlier the EPAs web site cited malathion as a carcinogen. They are waffling."
He cited a recent Reuters news dispatch reporting that EPA called the pesticide a "carcinogen."
Crowley charged the Post editorial was generated by Deputy Mayor Joseph Lhota, who Crowley called "the Mayors hit man."
In an interview with Antonio Bravo, the EPAs special assistant on pesticides, told The Queens Courier that "due to the scientific situation over malathion the agency will submit its review of animal studies of malathion to a group of internationally-renowned scientists."
Bravo explained that by "scientific situation" he meant the controversy surrounding the issue.
"They will try to shed light on the types of cancer seen in lab animals," he said.
Earlier reports said the tumors were sited in the liver and basal cells.
Asked about the controversial remarks of the USDAsSmith, the EPA spokesperson said, "Smith is regretful that he inadvertently fanned the controversy. He was insufficiently versed in the subject."
Bravo explained that just because a pesticide causes cancer in lab animals doesnt negate its use in humans. "Thats the law," he said.
The EPA aide said that the preliminary study released last week was phase three of a six phase process and involves opportunities for public comment and comment from the pesticide industry.
The long-awaited EPA ruling on the safety of the pesticide failed to change the minds of activists who oppose citywide spraying to destroy mosquitoes bearing the West Nile Virus.
Queens activists including the Green Party were churning out e-mail protests to city, state and federal officials that called for overturning the EPA preliminary findings. Local media was flooded with mail highly critical of the EPA. This newspaper received more than 100 e-mail communications over a three-day period.
Last month at a public hearing on the West Nile Virus — one of several conducted in the borough — Ackerman charged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suppressed an article critical of malathion in its widely circulated journal. The article charged that more than 100 individuals became ill when the product was sprayed over a rural area in Florida to destroy the Medfly, an insect that ruins crops.
The controversy over pesticide spraying in Queens flared last summer when doctors at Flushing Hospital diagnosed encephalitis and notified the city health department. Over last summer seven patients died and dozens became ill from the virus that causes an inflammation of the brain. The outbreak resulted in massive spraying of the city by helicopters and trucks with heavy concentrations in College Point, the "hot zone" for the disease-carrying mosquitoes.