Steve Scholl-Buckwald, Pesticide Action Network North America
Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News recently spoke with
Steve Scholl-Buckwald, the managing director of Pesticide Action
Network North America about priorities for PANNA, including the
Stockholm Convention, fumigants and spray drift. PANNA is part of
the larger international Pesticide Action Network that includes
regional centers in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.
PTCN: Please tell us a bit about your background.
Scholl-Buckwald: I've been at Pesticide Action Network since 1991, most of the time as co-director. I got attracted to this work because my partner and I had a restaurant that used mostly organic produce, and I got into natural foods retailing for a while. And when I wanted to do something more intellectual and advocacy-related, I came here. It was the connection to organics and natural foods that drew me to this particular job.
PTCN: Can you fill us in on PAN's history?
Scholl-Buckwald: It's a global network started in 1982 in response to a recognition of what was called a "circle of poison." There was a book published with that title that focused on the production of pesticides in the U.S. and Europe that were banned for use here, were shipped off and used under terribly lax regulatory conditions in the global south and then some of them circled back and came back on residues imported into northern industrial countries again.
After the book was published, a group of people came together at a meeting organized by the International Consumer Union Movement, and it brought together people from a broad spectrum of interests — environment, sustainable agriculture, trade and labor — but the pesticide issue focused their attention.
It was actually at that meeting in 1982 that the concept that eventually became the PIC convention — the Rotterdam Convention — that says countries should have the right to refuse the import of toxins that have been severely restricted or banned in their country of origin [arose]. They began working on that notion first by promoting voluntary codes through the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which became the FAO's code of conduct on pesticide trade and then into the formal Rotterdam Convention.
The Convention is in place, it's being enforced. The U.S. has actually participated voluntarily for years although the treaty hasn't been ratified. It probably won't be ratified while this administration is in power. But the concept is in place and the U.S. is mostly following it even though they haven't ratified the treaty.
PTCN: Is ratifying the Rotterdam Convention an important issue for PANNA?
Scholl-Buckwald: It's a major issue. In the U.S. it's both the PIC treaty — the Rotterdam Convention — and the Stockholm Convention — the POPs treaty — that are both waiting for ratification. We absolutely favor ratification. Although we haven't liked actual ratification legislation being put through because it's been loaded up with all sorts of amendments and codicils that undercut the basic ideas of the treaties.
We were involved in the early days of the Stockholm Convention and promoted it and still promote it. We're very much promoting the addition of other POPs chemicals —lindane will definitely be listed within the next year and endosulfans are now going through the process.
Our focus has always been on … the most problematic pesticides. It's not that we never saw a pesticide we liked — there are some pesticides we're not really particularly concerned about because their hazards are pretty modest. The notion of the PIC convention that focuses on things that have been severely restricted or banned in other places — or the POPs treaty that really takes on the ones that are so dangerous so long after they've been initially used — are where we want to put most of our energy.
PTCN: What are some of PANNA's major priorities?
Scholl-Buckwald: Our broad goal is to replace the most hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. It's not just severely restricting or banning the most dangerous chemicals but also promoting alternatives, which doesn't mean substituting one less toxic chemical for another so much as using approaches that are safer and more sustainable.
Fumigants, for example, [are] a particular cause of ours because [they] are so emblematic of how you become reliant on a sort of killing mechanism instead of relying on something that is sustainable, growth-producing and isn't hazardous to the workers, wildlife, water and air.
PTCN: What about spray drift? Is that a priority as well for PANNA?
Scholl-Buckwald: It's the mode of exposure that is least regulated. From our perspective, EPA basically has tried its best to avoid the issue. Our concern is about drift broadly, not just spray drift. One of our arguments with EPA is that they are only focusing on one form of drift. Drift from volatilization is equally if not more important. Virtually all pesticides applied in all forms at some point drift or migrate off sites or away from their target.
The difficulty is that if you get serious about regulating drift, you're getting serious about regulating pesticides that are where they shouldn't be, which is off the target pest, which is where 90% of them go.
There's no way of fully preventing drift. The solution to using things that are truly hazardous is to not use them. Getting there is hard. We're not trying to propose some ludicrous system where fumigants will be banned Nov. 15 and there's no transition in place. That's not going to work. The notion is that you should be going in a direction where ultimately you've got safety and sustainability. The energy ought to be going into developing alternatives and funding those things and pushing them rather than dragging the heels, developing new technicalities, loopholes. PTCN: What are some other priority issues for PANNA?
Scholl-Buckwald: We're particularly focused on organophosphates too — chlorpyrifos for example. Chlorpyrifos ought to be out of here. It's so hazardous and it's used in such a broad spectrum way. It's being used in California on the [light] brown apple moth. [The moth has] got nursery owners really upset because they come in, find the moth and want to douse everything with chlorpyrifos. Pest outbreaks like that are serious business, and we realize that. But when you reach for things that are so hazardous, it's problematic.
PTCN: What about federal legislation? Is there any activity on that front?
Scholl-Buckwald: The legislative opportunities have been pretty minimal through the Bush administration. So we're kind of biding our time and focusing more on local and state things.
PTCN: Are you more optimistic with the Democrats in charge of Congress?
Scholl-Buckwald: When we were promoting listing methyl bromide under the Montreal Protocol we were fighting the State Department under the Clinton administration. Changing parties is not a sufficient solution. Democrats will certainly be more responsive. Some of the most egregious rollbacks of sound environmental legislation won't be allowed to stand by the Democrats. The question is, will it go to fundamental change? We're more optimistic, but we're not naïve to think that suddenly the system is going to be turned upside down.
— Elizabeth Buckley firstname.lastname@example.org