Highlighting the major shift in regulatory focus and an overall lack of concern about consumer safety under the new Trump administration, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected a plan to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, despite prior scientific conclusions reached by the agency’s own researchers, which indicated that the chemical is harmful to developing children and farm workers.
The new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order on Wednesday, which denied a petition to ban the Dow pesticide, calling it “crucial to U.S. agriculture” in a press release. The move directly contradicts the conclusions of EPA scientists, who have determined that the risks posed by chlorpyrifos pesticides outweigh the benefits.
Scientists at the EPA were tasked under the Obama administration with actually studying the side effects of chlorpyrifos, and recommended that it be permanently banned nationwide.
A study published in 2014 added chlorpyrifos to a list of 11 chemicals identified as developmental neurotoxins, with widespread damaging affects to developing brains and reducing intelligence. Researchers indicated chlorpyrifos, along with other chemicals, may cause neurodevelopmental disabilities in children, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia.
Manufactured by Dow Chemical, chlorpyrifos was first put into use in 1965. It was banned in household settings in 2000, due to the health risks. However, it is still used on more than 40,000 farms nationally for 50 different types of crops, including grapes and almonds.
The petition calling for the ban was filed by health advocacy groups 10 years ago. An EPA review concluded last year that the concerns were justified, and that the pesticide causes significant health problems.
Following years of scientific review and epidemiological studies, which Pruitt declared unreliable, EPA researchers determined exposure to chlorpyrifos affected learning and caused memory decline. This was especially the case among young children exposed through drinking water and farm workers. Another study linked exposure during pregnancy to fetal brain abnormalities, such as abnormal brain growths.
Dow Chemical and farm groups responded by calling the EPA science, which showed the chemical as harmful, inconclusive. Farmers rely heavily on the chemical to kill insects that destroy crops.
Pruitt, who said the decision would not be revisited until 2022, has sued the EPA numerous times in the past, and has publicly denounced the environmental protection goals of the very agency he now leads.
Hundreds of former and current EPA employees have protested the appointment of Pruitt, which some have said has the ultimate goal of dismantling the entire environmental protection apparatus of the United States.
In his first action as EPA Administrator, Pruitt slammed the work of his new employees in the press release issued this week, saying it was based on bad science and that they began the review with the goal of banning the pesticide, because they were anti-industry.
Additionally, an EPA scientific review panel questioned the EPA’s safety conclusions last year, calling for the agency to revise how it justified its scientific findings. Even after the revision, the EPA’s experts still recommended the chemical be banned permanently.
“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said in the press release. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”
The announcement came amid a slew of environmental rollbacks issued by the administration of President Donald Trump this week, including an executive order that essentially dismantles the country’s efforts to fight human-made climate change, which the president has called a hoax, but which has been scientifically confirmed by an overwhelming majority of scientists and acknowledged as a threat even by the U.S. military, and former President George W. Bush.
Environmental groups said the move indicated the Trump administration cared more about an agenda focused on major corporations and donors, rather than the health and safety of families across the country.