Federal regulators are refusing to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, rejecting the findings of a growing body of science that suggests the widely used chemical can harm children’s brains.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a pre-publication notice (PDF) on July 18, announcing that it was denying objections to plans to allow chlorpyrifos-based products to stay on the market.
The decision comes after an appeals court issued a ruling in April, ordering the EPA to make a final decision on whether to ban chlorpyrifos by this month, ending a long legal battle over the pesticide.
Manufactured by Dow Chemical, chlorpyrifos was first put into use in 1965. It was banned in household settings in 2001, 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. It has been sold under a variety of brand names, including Dursban and Lorsban, as well as Scout, Empire, Eradex, and Warhawk.
In a study published in 2014, chlorpyrifos was added 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.
EPA scientists were tasked under the Obama administration with studying the side effects of chlorpyrifos, and recommended it be permanently banned nationwide. However, the EPA under President Trump reversed that decision in March 2017.
On August 9, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban it, but the administration challenged that decision and the authority of the Ninth Circuit, resulting in the April ruling.
“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 with the environmental group Earthjustice, said in a July 18 press release. “It is a tragedy that this administration sides with corporations instead of children’s health.”
States Investigating Their Own Bans
Goldman said the decision was only a setback, as individual states are beginning to look at potential chlorpyrifos bans on their own. She indicated lawmakers are considering bans in Hawaii and New York.
Additionally, California, Connecticut and Oregon are also making moves which could potentially result in a ban, and Maryland lawmakers are also exploring the options.
Experts say if California bans the chemical, it may start a cascade effect, since it is the most populous state in the country, the largest agricultural state, and it has been known to be at the vanguard of environmental policies that often become national.
Already, California has passed several restrictions, including an agreement this year by all counties which involve a ban on aerial spraying. The new guidelines also restrict application of the pesticide within 150 feet of homes, businesses or schools, and it is classified as a toxic air contaminant.
Several bills have been introduced to ban or restrict chlorpyrifos by Democrats in Congress at the national level as well, but those bills are not likely to move forward with the parties controlling one chamber each.