The Trump administration is trying to stall assessments of highly toxic pesticides that should have been banned decades ago.
The Trump administration has asked a federal court to give the government two additional years to complete assessments of the risks of chlorpyrifos and two other dangerous insecticides well known to harm endangered wildlife and public health.
Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic organophosphate insecticide sprayed on fruits and vegetables throughout the U.S. which is well-known to damage children, adults and wildlife. It was banned for indoor home use in 2001, but is still widely used in agricultural and ends up in our food and in the environment.
If the court approves the stalling tactic, the request would modify a 2014 legal agreement secured by the Center for Biological Diversity that required the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the pesticides’ harms by the end of 2017.
In April of this year, Dow Chemical, now DowDuPont, sent a letter to the EPA requesting that the agency stop its assessment and start the process over from scratch — essentially what the Trump administration requested Monday afternoon.
“It’s appallingly clear that the pesticide industry is now essentially running Trump’s EPA,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center. “This disturbing request shows that Pruitt and Trump are more interested in protecting the profits of their corporate buddies than the hundreds of endangered species threatened by these deadly pesticides.” Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure its actions do not jeopardize endangered species or harm their habitats.
Despite this clear mandate, the EPA has essentially ignored the plight of endangered species injured and killed by pesticides. Only after the Center’s 2014 legal victory did the agency agree to comply with this long-standing requirement.
In January, a rigorous EPA analysis of chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon — three highly toxic organophosphate insecticides — found that 97 percent of the more than 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act are likely to be harmed by malathion and chlorpyrifos. Another 78 percent are likely to be hurt by diazinon.
Unless the court approves the new delay request, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services will use those assessments to develop common-sense measures to reduce the pesticides' harm to endangered species — for example by limiting spraying in their habitat — by the end of the year.
Also in January Dow Chemical, the maker of chlorpyrifos, donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration. Shortly thereafter President Trump named Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris head of his American Manufacturing Council. Trump, who referred to Liveris as “my friend Andrew,” gave Liveris the ceremonial pen used to sign the executive order mandating that agencies create so-called “regulatory reform task forces” to eliminate regulations that inconvenience corporations.
Two months later, in March, Pruitt abruptly scrapped a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, which is known to cause brain damage in children. Dow then sent a letter in April requesting that the EPA scrap its efforts to assess the impacts of chlorpyrifos on endangered species.
“Rather than following the science and the law, the agency is turning its back on endangered species across the country,” said Burd. “On pesticides, the Trump administration is using the same dreadful tactics of delay and denial as climate deniers and the tobacco industry. This is a shameful day in America.”
Exposure to low levels of chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates has been shown to reduce IQ and disrupt cognitive development in humans in numerous studies, including:
- In California's Salinas Valley, a UC Berkeley study found that the group exposed to the highest levels of organophosphate during pregnancy was associated with a 7-point drop in IQ scores in 7-year-olds.
- A Columbia University study found decreases in full-scale IQ and working memory of 7-year-olds associated with tiny increases in prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos. Another study of the same group found that 3-year-old children with higher prenatal exposures to chlorpyrifos were more likely to experience delays in development, attention problems, ADHD problems and pervasive developmental disorder problems.
- A UC Davis study found that mothers who live within a mile of fields where chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides were applied had a 60 percent higher chance of having children with autism spectrum disorder. The link between autism and pesticides may be that gestational exposures tip the balance towards increasing autism risk.
- In addition, a recent study found associations between exposure to chlorpyrifos and changes to the architecture of the brain in 7-year old children.