EPA considers change that could handicap states as they struggle to control dicamba damage

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Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Spraying in a field along US 130 just north of Unite East Elementary School in Champaign County on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering limiting a regulation states use to protect farmers and residents from plant damage caused by a controversial pesticide known as dicamba.

The EPA announced Tuesday it’s re-evaluating how it reviews requests under section 24(c) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). States and other local municipalities submit Special Local Needs (SLN) requests to the agency when additional considerations are needed for using a pesticide in a more localized area.

In recent years, states have used this to rule to limit the use of dicamba, a chemical that has proven useful in controlling weeds resistant to other pesticides, but that has also damaged trees, non-resistance row crops and other sensitive plants.

On March 1, the Illinois Department of Agriculture announced that no dicamba could be applied to soybean fields after June 30. The state also added new requirements for training and clarified rules about buffer zones around fields.

But less than a month later, the EPA has clarified that the FIFRA regulation is intended for additional uses, not to limit a pesticide’s application.

“The fact that some states have instead used 24(c) to implement cut-off dates (and/or impose other restrictions), EPA is now re-evaluating its approach to reviewing 24(c) requests and the circumstances under which it will exercise its authority to disapprove those requests,” the EPA said in a statement.

Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota have applied additional restrictions to dicamba use in the 2019 season. Additionally, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, have considered adding restrictions on applying the chemical to soybeans.

Dicamba has been approved to prevent weeds in soybeans since 2017. It’s been used on corn since the 1960s.

Complaints about damage from dicamba have grown exponentially since 2017, according to state data. In Illinois, complaints grew from an annual average of 133 to more than 500 in 2018. More than 300 of those were attributed to dicamba.

The EPA said its decision shouldn’t affect any requests already approved in 2018. The agency also said it plans to accept public comments on any new approaches before implementing them.