U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A federal act established to protect farmers was expanded to protect the environment from the effects of toxic chemicals.

Summary of Event

The prosperity and the relative good health of the U.S. population are based in part on the nation’s ability not only to grow an abundance of basic crops but also to store harvests effectively. Crop losses resulting from insect activity, fungal infections, and rodent invasion are often as devastating to the human population as is a lack of productivity. Insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides have been critical to the maintenance of the quantity and quality of grains, fruits, and vegetables produced, stored, and transported in the United States. In addition, pesticides are vital to the protection of wooden homes from termites, clothing from clothes moths, and museum artifacts from a wide array of fungal and insect agents. Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (1972) Pesticides;regulation [kw]U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations (Oct. 21, 1972) [kw]Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations, U.S. (Oct. 21, 1972) [kw]Pesticide Regulations, U.S. Congress Expands (Oct. 21, 1972) [kw]Regulations, U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide (Oct. 21, 1972) Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (1972) Pesticides;regulation [g]North America;Oct. 21, 1972: U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations[00910] [g]United States;Oct. 21, 1972: U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations[00910] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Oct. 21, 1972: U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations[00910] [c]Environmental issues;Oct. 21, 1972: U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations[00910] [c]Agriculture;Oct. 21, 1972: U.S. Congress Expands Pesticide Regulations[00910] Ruckelshaus, William D. Moore, John A. Feldman, Jay

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act of 1947 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (1947) (FIFRA) established basic requirements for the labeling of pesticide products. This act was an attempt to ensure that pesticides were effective as claimed and to protect users, mainly farmers, by requiring that specific safety instructions be posted on product labels.

At the time that FIFRA was enacted, the use of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) DDT had prevented repetition of the World War I-era deaths from louse-born typhus and had offered some hope of dramatically reducing malaria worldwide. Increasing numbers of chemical agents, particularly chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides, were becoming available for farm use. Using chemicals to reduce crop losses was viewed by the general public as hardly different from the use of penicillin to overcome infections. The 1947 act was thus primarily intended to protect the safety of farmers, who were the main applicators of pesticides, and to provide some degree of truth in labeling. The long-term environmental effects of some pesticides that persist in the environment were not well understood until much later, following the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Silent Spring (Carson)

In 1972, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (FEPCA) made substantial revisions in FIFRA that gave it an environmental dimension. The critical change was the provision that the pesticide, “when used in accordance with widespread and commonly recognized practice will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.” Such “unreasonable adverse effects” were further defined in the act as “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment, taking into account the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide.” FIFRA was no longer viewed as an act to protect farmers from harm; adverse effects on humans became simply one of many environmental effects.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring alerted the general public to the dangers of widespread pesticide use.

(Library of Congress)

The 1972 FEPCA revision continued to control pesticide sales by way of label requirements and required the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency;pesticides (EPA), formed two years earlier, to consider the environmental impact of the use of pesticides for the uses proposed on the label. This addition expanded FIFRA from an act regulating pesticide use to an environmental protection act by way of controlling the labeling and registration process. In 1972, Congress directed that each pesticide be classified as either “restricted” or “general use.” In addition, specific uses of pesticides could be classified as either “general” or “restricted.”

If used according to the label instructions, general-use pesticides can be applied by anyone, and no additional training or certification is required of the user. A general-use pesticide, however, is often restricted in the sites where it can be used. For example, paradichlorobenzene moth balls are registered for home use, in which a few moth balls are usually isolated in closets and drawers away from people; however, the same chemical is not legal for use in museums, where employees would constantly be working around higher concentrations built up in often-used specimen cabinets.

Restricted-use pesticides may be applied only by certified applicators or persons working under their direct supervision. Pesticides that are highly toxic require specially trained applicators. A pesticide may also be restricted, however, if it persists in the environment for a long period. Common insecticides thus disappeared from store counters because they were too persistent in the environment, because they were found to have adverse health effects, or because they required specialized application gear.

According to FIFRA, the term “pest” encompasses not only insects, rodents, and fungi but also roundworms, weeds, and any other aquatic or terrestrial animal, plant, or microorganism declared by the EPA administrator to be a pest because of its effects on health or the environment. Viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms on or in humans or other animals are not considered pests. A pesticide is thus defined as any substance that prevents, repels, or destroys such pests. Pesticides may be chemical or biological substances; a pesticide may be merely considered as active ingredient or may consist of a complex formulation. Attractants, repellents, defoliants, and plant regulators are all pesticides.

The pesticide registrant has specific duties to label the product after it is produced. It is a violation to remove or deface the usage instructions that are required on a pesticide container. If pesticides are purchased in large quantity, the label is to be copied and transferred to the containers to be used in application.

Because the major leverage for regulating pesticides centers on labeling, the contents of the label are set by regulation. The nine items that must appear on the label are the product name, the name of the producer, the net contents, the product registration number, the producer-identifying number, the ingredient statement, exact warning statements, directions for use, and use classifications.

The ingredient statement lists active and inert ingredients of the pesticide, similar to the ingredient labels often seen on food packaging in grocery stores. The warning statement is considerably more complex than the ingredient statement, because a chemical can pose different levels of damage if exposed to skin or eyes, or if inhaled or ingested. Pesticides, therefore, must be extensively evaluated in animal tests to establish levels of 50 percent lethal dosage for skin contact or ingestion (a level known as LD50) or lethal concentration if inhaled (known as LC50). With four levels of toxicity for each of five hazards, a pesticide must be labeled with warnings indicating the highest hazard. The large signal words used to flag the level of danger range from the most dangerous, “poison,” to the least alarming, “caution.”

All pesticides rated category 1 poisons must also provide a statement of practical treatment or first aid on the front panel of the product label; products in other categories may print the treatment elsewhere on the label. Warnings of potential hazard to humans and domestic animals must also be included on labels, as must a notice stating if other nontarget organisms are particularly endangered. Because some pesticides are petroleum-based or pressurized, warnings about flammability and danger from explosion may also be required.

The directions for use must include legible and simple instructions that protect the public from injury and fraud and that avoid adverse effects on the environment. Such directions include site of application, target pests, dosage or rate of application, method of application, frequency of application, and limitations on reentry to the area where the pesticide has been applied. Storage and disposal instructions are particularly critical for preventing environmental contamination. The statement of use classification advertises boldly whether the pesticide is classified for general use or restricted use. This last designation requires a follow-up statement that clearly states that the pesticide is for retail sale only to certified applicators.

Criteria for storage facilities are provided for the most toxic pesticides. Mobile equipment must follow general procedures for decontamination, maintenance, and inspection. Safety precautions are mandated, including both accident-prevention measures and ongoing safety measures for persons working in the distribution and handling of pesticides. For specific highly toxic pesticides, periodic physical examinations, including cholinesterase tests, are required of persons working with pesticides. Fires involving pesticides can present particularly dangerous scenarios, and storage of large quantities of pesticides require the notification of local firefighting personnel to ensure preparedness.

Exemptions from the complex FIFRA regulations are allowed when a pest outbreak occurs posing dramatic economic or health threats and when there is not enough time to seek registration of an appropriate pesticide. With the increasing availability of fast international travel and the rise in pesticide resistance, such problems seem more likely to arise in the future.

Most important, FIFRA established standards for certification of commercial applicators for the use of restricted pesticides. The testing of an applicator’s competence is based on problems and situations relevant to the applicator’s certification. In addition to the use of the pesticide in various formulations, certified applicators must be knowledgeable about the label data, safety procedures, environmental concerns, and laws and regulations relating to the pesticide being used. There are provisions for experimental-use permits for the purpose of gathering data on new pesticide formulations and applications.

Minor amendments to the act were made in 1975, but in 1978 the Federal Pesticide Act Federal Pesticide Act (1978) changed FIFRA considerably, establishing a generic registration procedure that required a standardized evaluation of the benefits and risks of active ingredients of pesticide products. The prior act had required registration of each chemical based on its brand name; however, the same chemical is often marketed under many brand names.

Additional extensive amendments in 1988 fine-tuned procedures for registration of pesticides and for canceling or removing pesticide registrations. The 1988 amendments empowered the EPA to set deadlines for manufacturers to reregister pesticides containing newly regulated ingredients. A fee based on market factors was also assessed pesticide applicants to help underwrite a portion of the cost of reviewing pesticide reapplications.

Congress authorized the use of a scientific advisory panel to assist the EPA in evaluating and regulating pesticides. Subpanels of this group review major scientific studies relevant to pesticides and consult in the reclassification of pesticides. It is sometimes necessary to take immediate action when new research reveals that a pesticide has unexpected harmful effects. The EPA administrator can promptly suspend or change registration on a pesticide; this is called an emergency suspension action. Any emergency suspension, however, requires an immediate peer review. In cases in which such an action leaves a registrant holding a large quantity of pesticide, the administrator is authorized to compensate the registrant for the loss.

Procedures exist for the recall of pesticides determined by the EPA to be more hazardous than first recognized. In such cases, producers must notify the EPA administrator of the location and the amount of the canceled or suspended pesticide. Pesticide containers and rinsing agents are also regulated, and penalties for falsifying records or data submitted in support of applications are defined in the act.


FIFRA, FEPCA, and their amendments provided uniform criteria for pesticide regulation on a nationwide scale. The responsibility for registering a pesticide is with the manufacturer, not with the user. No person in any state may sell, ship, or receive any pesticide that is not registered with the EPA, regardless of whether the activity is carried out within a state or across state lines. (There are provisions allowing a manufacturer to transport a nonregistered pesticide for disposal when it has been canceled or while it is in an experimental stage of development.) States retain the right to register pesticides in each state, and a state may impose more stringent restrictions. States may not, however, allow sale or use of a pesticide if the pesticide is prohibited under the law.

The act directs enforcement power to the EPA. For those states that hold a cooperative agreement with the EPA, the state assumes primary enforcement responsibility. Provisions of these acts allow the administering government agency to seek both criminal and civil sanctions against companies, individuals, and organizations that violate provisions of the law. The EPA may inspect for violations, issue orders to require compliance, and seek court injunctions to require compliance. Knowingly violating provisions of the law is a misdemeanor.

Examples of violations include failure to submit required information, falsification of records, and failure to observe the various orders canceling or suspending pesticide use. Individuals who advise pesticide applicators to use illegal pesticides are considered to be in violation of the law. It is also unlawful to use any registered pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its label, although it is legal to dilute pesticides to lower concentrations or to use them against alternative pests or by other methods of applications if such uses are not specifically prohibited. As with any system that must deal with the complexity of the environment and the limitations in scientific knowledge, however, the enforcement of these laws is open to considerable prosecutorial discretion.

Passage of FIFRA and its amendments was a response to the real need for effective insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides as well as to the need to protect the populace and the environment from the damaging effects of toxic and long-lasting chemicals. The law mandates the use of the current expertise of the scientific community to maintain a fair and reliable system of regulation for the pesticide industry. Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act (1972) Pesticides;regulation

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. 1962. Reprint. Boston: Mariner Books, 2002. The classic best seller on the long-term effects of pesticide use. Illustrates some of the concerns that led to the 1972 revision of the 1947 act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Edwards, Clive A. Persistent Pesticides in the Environment. 2d ed. Cleveland, Ohio: CRC Press, 1973. An overview of pesticide-related problems around the time of the 1972 FIFRA amendments. Reviews the major pesticide studies conducted at the time.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McGregor, Gregor I. Environmental Law and Enforcement. Boca Raton, Fla.: Lewis, 1994. The wide range of environmental laws bridge a complex system of governmental acts and jurisdictions. This text separates the field by topics, such as air pollution, hazardous wastes, drinking water, and chemicals, and addresses FIFRA from several aspects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Russell, Irma S. “Federal Statutes and Regulations Governing the Use of Pesticides and an Annotation of Federal Pesticide Regulations.” In A Guide to Museum Pest Control, edited by John R. Schrock and Lynda A. Zycherman. Washington, D.C.: Association of Systematics Collections and Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1988. This description of FIFRA explains in common terms the implications of the act for scientists working with pesticides in a museum environment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ware, George Whitaker. Pesticides: An Auto-tutorial Approach. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1975. A useful discussion of pesticides and their effects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Whitford, Fred. The Complete Book of Pesticide Management: Science, Regulation, Stewardship, and Communication. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Assesses the potential environmental and health risks linked to the use of pesticides. Chapter 1 briefly covers the history of pesticide regulations. Later chapters address pesticides and the workplace.

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Categories: History