For three years, Syngenta sold mislabeled pesticides and herbicides to consumers and farming supply stores hundreds of times in at least six states — even while the chemical company was paying fines for previous similar environmental violations.
Syngenta, whose U.S. offices are based in Greensboro, was fined more than $1.2 million by the EPA for allegedly selling pesticides that were misbranded, had outdated labels and for failing to maintain records related to pesticide studies, as required by the federal government.
The EPA announced the consent agreement with Syngenta, which does not include an admission of guilt, on Friday.
“The repackaging, sale and distribution of unregistered and misbranded pesticides is illegal and puts people and the environment at risk,” Anne Heard, EPA acting regional administrator for the Southeast, said in a prepared statement.
The pesticide industry consistently tells consumers that the products are safe, as long as the label directions are followed. That assumes, of course, that the labels are correct.
According to the consent agreement, Sygenta allegedly sold and distributed pesticides whose labels were outdated by as many as nine years. In Iowa, Michigan, Kansas and Missouri, vital label information was missing: precautionary statements and directions for use, storage and disposal.
The affected pesticides were Touchdown Total, Dual II Magnum G, Lexar and Expert, which is classified as a restricted use chemical because of its toxicity. Its label promises “down to the roots burndown” of 170 weeds. The active ingredient is atrazine, a widely used weedkiller, which often seeps into groundwater and is a common contaminant in drinking water.
The EPA released a draft report in May concluding that atrazine not only pollutes water but poses a serious risk to birds, mammals, fish and frogs.
Syngenta also allegedly failed to maintain records or raw data on required EPA pesticide/fungicide studies at two contracted laboratories. The soil testing was related to Abound Flowable Fungicide , which is used on wheat and oats.
And finally, Sygenta sold 19 pesticides to 222 refillers without proper records or repackaging requirements. Registered refillers, such as agricultural supply stores, can repackage pesticides in refillable containers. The pesticide must be labeled without any changes, except for the refiller’s EPA tracking number.
More than $766,000 was levied in civil penalties, with another $437,000 for a four-year Supplemental Environmental Project — essentially, an employee retraining program.
“We promptly implemented measures to address the alleged violations and confirm we are in compliance with the relevant requirements,” Syngenta announced on its website. “We will continue to review our business record keeping, systems and practices internally, as well as externally with customers and contractors, to ensure compliance” with environmental rules.
However, Syngenta already has been penalized for similar violations over the past 10 years. In 2012, the company paid $102,000 in penalties for selling and distributing mislabeled pesticides. In 2010, Syngenta was fined again –$9,000 — for the same reason.
And in 2006, the EPA fined Syngenta Seeds $1.5 million for selling and distributing seed corn that contained an unregistered genetically engineered pesticide, Bt 10.
In 2008, it was fined $284,000 for several violations, including worker protections at its research facility in Hawaii.
Preston Peck, policy advocate for Toxic Free NC, told NCPW that the most recent fine is “hardly a strong message” for Syngenta, which was just acquired by ChemChina for $43 billion.
Peck has been outspoken critic of the NC Pesticide Board, which last week, named a Syngenta ecotoxicologist , Jay Overmyer, to its advisory panel about neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide known to harm honeybees. Syngenta also manufactures neonics, as they’re commonly known.
A Bayer toxicologist, Dave Fischer, is also on the six-member panel.