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EPA Gets Ready to Shoo Away Two Pesticides

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Two of the nationĺs most controversial and important pesticides are about to be washed down the drain. The Environmental Protection Agency stands poised on Monday to sharply restrict the use of methyl parathion and azinphosmethyl, two chemicals widely used on various fruits, including apples, peaches and pears. The agency is cracking down because of concern that over-exposure to the pesticides may cause damage to the nervous systems of small children. Environmentalists cheered the prospect but farm groups questioned its scientific basis.

The proposed EPA action is "the beginning of a new process to take another look at pesticides," says TIME science correspondent Dick Thompson. The agency used to rely on laboratory tests of rats to determine the safety of pesticides. "They would look for traces of cancer in rats that had been force-fed the pesticides," he says. These days, officials look for a broader range of risks beyond cancer, such as the risks of digestive problems or neurological problems. The scientific literature, says Thompson, has found that high exposure to the two pesticides in question may cause problems in children. The new analysis prompted the EPA to act.