Is Congress Making America Sick?
Congress’ inability to act on a critical pesticide bill is preventing flu-fighting products from coming to market.
by Jim Jones
This headline is not new: the winter season has brought with it a wave of new influenza cases, and new strains that are not prevented by the flu vaccine. Absences from work and school are adding up this year, as this hard-hitting flu season keeps people home for days and threatens the lives of our most vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly.
In addition to the flu vaccine, there are many recommended practices to battle the spread of the virus, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding close contact with sick colleagues. However, the task of maintaining clean and sanitized homes, workplaces, and schools is an ongoing battle for families and organizations across the country.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that during the week of February 5, 350% more Americans were seeing their healthcare provider for influenza-like illness than the national average – the highest rate observed since the 2009 flu epidemic. Young children are among the at-risk populations that are particularly vulnerable to influenza. As of February 5, CDC reported 63 flu-related pediatric deaths this season, and that 1 in every 2,500 children under the age of five has been hospitalized for the flu. The momentum of this year’s flu season shows no sign of waning, and has the potential to negatively impact even more lives as the season wears on.
Here’s a headline you may not have seen: many of the products that help maintain clean environments are being threatened by Congress. Disinfectants and antimicrobial products are registered as pesticides, meaning that they require a significant health, safety and efficacy review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before they hit store shelves. The program that authorizes and funds this process is the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), which allows crucial pesticide products to be vetted by the EPA and go to market in an expedited process. A significant part of the funding for this program is provided by the companies seeking the registrations. Unfortunately, the program also needs to be reauthorized by Congress periodically.
As the next generation of innovative products is being developed, PRIA provides for accelerated health and safety reviews of consumer pesticide products so that they may enter the stream of commerce. Before the passage of the first PRIA authorization in 2003, these reviews took about five to six years for the EPA to complete. Because PRIA authorizes the EPA to collect millions of dollars per year in fees from registrants to fund these reviews, and because of the strict statutory timetables, this EPA review under the expiring PRIA measure now only takes about six months. A years-long wait for new products is unacceptable, especially while a proven and industry-funded program withers on the legislative vine.
The reauthorization has passed through Congress twice in the past, both times unanimously and with support from both industry and consumer advocates. However, the next reauthorization is being held in Congress; a lapse in EPA’s authority to collect industry user fees will slow the review of new products and delay their introduction into the market place thereby preventing the distribution of the cutting-edge products of the future that battle domestic influenza outbreaks, and international pandemics like the Zika and West Nile viruses.
To protect the health of Americans devastated by flu season, Congress should reauthorize PRIA and make safe, innovative disinfectants available to consumers.
Jim Jones is executive vice president of strategic alliances and industry relations at the Household & Commercial Products Association in Washington, DC. He is the former assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP).