Karen Dorn Steele - Staff writer
A national recycling group is accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of bowing to pressure from Dow Chemical Co. by shutting off public comment on the uses of the controversial herbicide clopyralid.
Dow wants the government to withdraw the chemical for residential lawns. Critics want it withdrawn entirely.
Clopyralid has already caused big problems locally. The city of Spokane recently agreed to pay $950,000 to buy out its 10-year composting contract with Norcal Waste Systems because the compost is contaminated with a Dow herbicide that contains the chemical.
Residues of the long-lived weed killer on grass left for pickup by curbside collection programs are toxic to some common garden plants, including tomatoes.
Approved by the EPA in 1987, the weed killer is sold in 50 states with up to 37 brand names, including Confront, Stinger and Lontrel.
The city of Spokane is still considering a lawsuit against Dow to recoup the money it was forced to pay to Norcal, said City Attorney Mike Connelly.
Norcal is also looking at its legal options, said company spokesman Robert Reed.
"Dow should pull this product off the market, and it should have done it a long time ago," Reed said.
Spokane's regional composting facility stopped accepting new grass clippings in February because of the clopyralid problems.
The Grassroots Recycling Network, a national coalition based in Athens, Ga., is upset that the EPA has shortened public comment on Dow's newly proposed limitations on its products containing clopyralid.
The limitations include stronger warning labels and deleting their use on residential lawns. All comments must be submitted to EPA by Friday.
This summer, the EPA proposed a six-month public comment period, but then switched to 30 days.
More time is warranted because the herbicide -- even with the new restrictions -- continues to pose a serious threat to the composting industry, said Bill Sheehan of the recycling network.
"You've seen in Spokane what the public effect can be," Sheehan said. His coalition wants Dow Agrosciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co., to recall the product until its problems can be fixed.
Gary Hamlin of Dow Agrosciences didn't return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
EPA normally grants a six-month comment period on proposals to restrict the use of a chemical, said the EPA's Joanne Miller. But Dow requested the shorter comment period, she said.
"If a company requests a shorter time, we will grant it. They don't have to give us a reason," Miller said.
Dow's proposed federal delisting for the product on residential lawns follows recent action to restrict the chemical in California.
Last February, California imposed an emergency ban on the weed killer. On July 26, Dow AgroSciences asked EPA to banish the weed killer from the shelves of hardware stores and garden centers nationwide.
Sponsors of a California bill to make the emergency ban permanent accused Dow of attempting an end-run around tougher regulations. They said commercial uses of the potent chemical far outweigh residential uses.
Dow's request to EPA wouldn't prevent professional lawn care companies from applying the chemical to residential lawns, or prevent local gardeners from applying the chemical.
Dow said it decided to request restrictions on its own products because of the compost hazards. Scientists are studying why the chemical remains in the compost for so long.
Washington state has banned the use of the herbicide on residential and commercial lawns and turf to prevent contaminating any more compost. The ban took place March 1.
There's one exception: Golf courses are allowed to use products containing clopyralid if no grass clippings are sent to composting facilities that serve the public.
Karen Dorn Steele can be reached ... by e-mail at email@example.com