The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for registering pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). As part of this process, the EPA must ensure that the use of the pesticide will not cause any unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, including species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and designated critical habitat for such species. Often, in order to comply with the ESA, the EPA must consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to determine whether a pesticide is likely to have an adverse effect on a listed species or its critical habitat. This consultation process has been complicated by the fact that the EPA, FWS, and NMFS have developed their own approaches to evaluating environmental risks.
As a result, the EPA, FWS, NMFS, and the United States Department of Agriculture asked the National Research Council (NRC) to recommend a unified approach to evaluating the environmental risks to listed species posed by pesticides. The NRC is an arm of the National Academies, and is an independent organization whose mission is to inform governmental decisionmaking and public policy in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health. The NRC recently released a pre-publication copy of its report, entitled Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides (pdf).
The report concludes that the ecological risk assessment (ERA) process is the preferred approach for evaluating the risks posed by pesticides to listed species. As applied in the ESA context, NRC envisions this process involving three steps: determining (1) whether a pesticide may affect a listed species, (2) whether the affect is likely to be adverse to the listed species or its critical habitat, and (3) whether it is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species. As part of each step, NRC recommends that the agencies engage in a process of formulating the problem, analyzing the risks of pesticide exposure and the effects thereof, and characterizing these risks.
The report also addresses a number of other issues, including recommendations for identifying appropriate data to be used in assessments, developing more accurate models, and incorporating uncertainty into the assessments.