Strongarm of the Law
Supreme Court rules that pesticide makers are liable for damages
The U.S. Supreme Court has acted to restore a measure of sanity to the world of pesticides and weed-killers. In the 1990s, lawyers for big chemical companies pushed a novel interpretation of the 1972 federal law governing pesticides: By submitting pesticides for approval by the U.S. EPA, they said, companies thereby gained immunity from any future lawsuits over damage caused by the chemicals. Several lower courts fell for it, and in 2001, the Bush administration formally adopted the pro-industry position. But in a ruling yesterday on a case involving peanut farmers whose crops were wiped out by a Dow Chemical pesticide called Strongarm, the Supremes reversed the lower court rulings and rejected the industry’s legal interpretation. In fact, Justice John Paul Stevens’ majority opinion called it “particularly dubious,” especially in light of the fact that the EPA relies solely on manufacturer-provided information in approving pesticides.