Commentary

EPA Won't Ban Pesticide That's Linked To Brain Damage In Children

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday refused to restrict farmer’s use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide patented in 1966 by Dow Chemical to kill bugs and worms on fruits and vegetables that has been linked  to brain damage in fetuses and children.

“The agency denied the petition by a dozen environmental groups, led by Earthjustice, to ban the pesticide. They said studies show that exposures to the pesticide is linked to low birth weight, reduced IQ, attention disorders and other issues in infants and children,” writes  Reuters’ Valerie Volcovici.

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“EPA has determined that their objections must be denied because the data available are not sufficiently valid, complete or reliable to meet petitioners’ burden to present evidence demonstrating that the tolerances are not safe,” the agency ruled in a statement signed by Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, its assistant administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“The Obama administration’s EPA had banned the use of chlorpyrifos in 2015 after it decided it could not be certain whether exposure to the chemical in food and water would be harmful. But Trump’s first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, reversed  that decision in 2017, prompting an ongoing legal battle,” Reuters’ Volcovici adds.

Chlorpyrifos is now made and marketed by Corteva Agriscience, which was spun off from DowDuPont as a standalone company on June 1. Dow and E.I. du Pont de Nemours merged to become DowDuPont in 2017.

“The EPA’s decision, which represented a win for industry, drew swift condemnation from groups that have pushed for years to remove the pesticide from the market,” Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin write for The Washington Post

“By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children’s brains,” Patti Goldman, an attorney for the environmental law organization Earthjustice, said  in a statement cited by Dennis and Epstein. “It is a tragedy that this administration sides with corporations instead of children’s health.”

“The EPA defense Thursday showed that ‘as long as the Trump administration is in charge, this EPA will favor the interests of the chemical lobby over children’s safety,’ said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group environmental advocacy organization,” the AP’s Ellen Knickmeyer writes.

The administration will soon have to defend its position in court.

“Last summer, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban all sales of the pesticide. The court decided to reconsider that ruling with a slate of 11 judges, who gave the EPA until this month to respond to the environmental groups’ arguments for banning chlorpyrifos,” Knickmeyer adds.

The decision by the EPA and its current administrator, former coal-industry lobbyist Andrew R. Wheeler, also represents a victory for farmers who have argued it is necessary to protect crops, Lisa Friedman reports  for The New York Times.

“It was the administration’s second major move this year to roll back or eliminate chemical safety rules. In April, the agency disregarded the advice of its own experts when officials issued a rule that restricted but did not ban asbestos, a known carcinogen. Agency scientists and lawyers had urged the E.P.A. to ban asbestos outright, as do most other industrialized nations,” Friedman adds.

“The agency banned chlorpyrifos for household uses in 2000, but allowed agricultural producers to continue using it. That decision has been challenged through petitions and in the courts since 2007,”  CNN’s Gregory Wallace and Ellie Kaufman report.

“The EPA said it will continue an ongoing review of chlorpyrifos and make its next determination about the pesticide by 2022. That review ‘could result in further use limitations affecting the outcome of EPA's assessment,’ its statement said. The agency is required by law to periodically review chemicals,” they add.

“Caroline Cox, a senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health, said chlorpyrifos was a unique case, given that the research was abundant and no longer ambiguous,” The Guardian’s Sam Levin writes.

“What we have with chlorpyrifos is multiple academic research projects that have shown that actual children who actually live in California are being harmed by this chemical,” she said on Thursday. “It’s pretty rare that you have that kind of evidence for any toxic chemical.” 

Levin adds that Cox “noted that impacts such as lower IQ affect children ‘for the rest of their lives,’ adding: ‘Every day the EPA says we don’t have enough science is more children being exposed and bearing this burden.’”

Remember “better things for better living through chemistry?” That was “ the promise of DuPont” at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

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