EPA Proposes System to Distribute Labels Online; Comments Accepted Until March 29

The Environmental Protection Agency will publish a Federal Register notice Dec. 29 describing a long-awaited system it is proposing that would update and distribute many pesticide labels via the Internet.

The proposed system, which grew out of a 2007 request from state pesticide regulators, “would be a potentially major change for pesticide users,” EPA's notice said. The change is expected to make it easier and cheaper for pesticide manufacturers to update their pesticide labels with new information, such as new uses the agency has approved or new restrictions it has imposed, the agency said.

“Stakeholders would benefit from faster implementation of risk mitigation and new uses, faster access to new uses, reduced printing costs, and streamlined labeling,” EPA said in its notice.

Trade associations have said they are concerned about liability, safety, and enforcement issues that could arise as a result of Web-based pesticide label distribution, issues that have not been resolved (181 DEN A-3, 9/21/10).

Parties that could be affected by the proposal include pesticide manufacturers; state regulators; workers who use pesticide products; companies that manufacture or distribute pesticides; businesses that provide regulatory services to pesticide manufacturers or users; and farms, orchards, greenhouses, nurseries, and other facilities, EPA's notice said.

“Residential [and] consumer use products would not be included in web distributed labeling,” EPA said.

Benefits for State Regulators.

State regulators would benefit from the labelling system in two ways, EPA said.

“First, EPA thinks that users would more readily understand the streamlined labeling available through a web-distributed labeling system and therefore would be more likely to comply with the requirements in the labeling,” EPA said.

Second, there would be less time between EPA approval of a change to pesticide labels and when the new labeling that reflects the change reaches users in the field, EPA said.

“State officials and users have complained that different but legal versions of product labeling lead to confusion of users and challenges for enforcement,” EPA said.

Currently, “critics note that because the labeling of a single product may contain precautions and detailed use directions for multiple uses, the labeling is often quite long--sometimes exceeding 50 pages in length. As a consequence, pesticide users complain that it is difficult to find all of the relevant parts of the labeling, and some state regulatory officials suspect that overly lengthy labeling materials have diminished user compliance rates,” EPA said.

EPA's proposal would benefit pesticide applicators or other users, because it would allow the first-ever use of state- and use-specific pesticide information to be provided to users.

Finally, EPA argued, pesticide applicators and workers would be helped because labeling websites could be used to house or to link to materials they may find helpful, such as training materials, pesticide-rate application calculators, and supplementary health and safety information, the agency said.

Scope of products.

Under EPA's proposal, developed in consultation with state regulators, the regulated industries, and other interested parties, both unrestricted (general use) and restricted use products (RUPs) used by parties other than those used by consumers and household residents may be appropriate for web-distributed labeling.

EPA asked for views on issues such as the appropriate scope of products under consideration as eligible for web-distributed labeling and the criteria EPA should use to determine which types of pesticides should be eligible for web-distributed labeling.

The agency proposed that compliance in a web-distributed labeling system should initially be voluntary, but it asked for comment on the benefits and drawbacks associated with voluntary and mandatory participation.

Content.

EPA's proposal described types of information that would be required to be on labels attached to pesticide containers.

That information would include the “released for shipment date,” which would detail approved uses of the pesticide when the product was released to the market.

“The new system must ensure that users do not continue to follow old labeling when using new products,” EPA said.

Information that could be placed on a website rather than affixed to the container, would include details on types of applications, engineering controls, and advisory statements, EPA said, asking whether parties agreed with its proposed content that would be placed on containers versus content that would be available online.

Alternative Mechanisms.

EPA's proposal said pesticide users must have access to label information through means other than the Internet.

A 2009 survey conducted by the Department of Agriculture found that only 59 percent of farms in the United States had Internet access, according to EPA's notice.

EPA asked for comment on acceptable alternatives to provide label information, such as maintaining toll-free hotlines.

It also asked who should oversee such alternative mechanisms and it asked who should pay for them.

Comments, due March 29, should be marked docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0648 and filed via http://www.regulations.gov.

By Pat Rizzuto


A link to EPA's proposal will be available at http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/.

EPA directed specific questions to Michelle DeVaux in the Office of Pesticide Programs. DeVaux can be reached by telephone at (703) 308-5891 or devaux.michelle@epa.gov.