EPA declines to ban controversial insecticide chlorpyrifos, again

Representational image

On Thursday the United States' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it would not ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos - which has linked to health points in children - from its use on US-grown fruits and vegetables.

The Obama administration announced it would ban chlorpyrifos in 2015, but the ban never took place. Those groups cast the decision as another example of the Trump administration siding with industry. Alston & Bird partner Kevin Minoli said agency critics can now challenge the EPA's conclusion that the pesticide is safe and noted that judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit have already indicated "they have significant concerns about the safety of chlorpyrifos".

Chlorpyrifos is now made and marketed by Corteva Agriscience, which was spun off from DowDuPont as a standalone company on June 1. "We are committed to working with the Agency as it seeks to make an accurate assessment and, if necessary, reduce potential exposures, while also ensuring that growers for whom chlorpyrifos is a critical tool can continue to use the product safely", said Gregg Schmidt, a spokesman for the firm, in an email to Reuters.

On July 18, the EPA denied those objections, saying that the data supporting the group's objections were "not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence sufficient to meet the Petitioners' burden under the (Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act), as set forth in EPA's implementing regulations". EPA scientists' assessments of those studies concluded that the levels of the pesticide now found on food and in drinking water are unsafe.

That's despite several scientific studies, partially funded by the EPA, that link chlorpyrifos to health issues in children who live near agricultural fields.

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. EPA claims there was a lack of evidence of neurological damages to humans from chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate, hails from the same chemical family as nerve agents such as sarin, famous for its weaponized use in World War II. It flies in the face of decades of strong scientific evidence, and the recommendations of the agency's own scientists.

"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.

The EPA said it also was talking with chlorpyrifos makers about further restrictions on how farmers use the pesticide. So far, Hawaii has become the first state to ban chlorpyrifos, and California and NY are also committed to banning it. "This administration is putting children, workers and rural families across the country at continued risk for no good reason, and we will continue to press for a full federal ban of this risky chemical", Kristin Schafer, executive director of the advocacy group Pesticide Action Network, said in an email.



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