Health

Court Orders EPA to Ban Pesticide Linked to Brain Development Dysfunction in Kids

In a major reversal for the EPA’s reckless pesticide policies, the Trump Administration was just ordered to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos within 60 days.

After the August 9 court decision to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos and its use on food crops, babies eating apples and applesauce will be a lot safer soon.

The chemical is an organophosphate pesticide used to kill a variety of insects and worms. First introduced by Dow Chemical Company in 1965, it works by damaging the way acetylcholine, an enzyme present in nerve tissue, muscle and red blood cells, naturally stimulates nerve structures in living beings. It has been used for over 50 years as a spray application across the United States on crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, asparagus, peaches, strawberries, apples, broccoli, walnuts and cranberries.

It also happens to do horrific damage to babies and young children.

In 2015, after a review process which took five years to complete with a dozen government scientists involved, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that chlorpyrifos was not safe when applied to food crops. In the report from that time, the EPA scientists said that based on evidence of “neurodevelopmental effects in fetuses and children resulting from chlorpyrifos exposure”, that routine exposure to the pesticide was linked to delays in mental development, intelligence loss, attention deficit disorder (ADHD), problems in working memory, hand tremors, lower birth weights, and autism spectrum disorder.

In November 2016, the EPA updated their findings from the 2016 report in a revised human health risk assessment of the poison. It confirmed there were no safe uses of the pesticide and found that:

  • All food exposures exceed safe levels for human exposure.
  • When the chemical gets into drinking water, there is no safe level.
  • Pesticide drift, the movement of pesticide beyond its intended application area, becomes unsafe as far away as 300 feet from a field’s edge.
  • Chrlorpyrifos was found in unsafe concentrations in the air in schools, homes, and communities near agricultural areas.

Children’s brains are being damaged by the chemical in large numbers and broadly across not just in the United States but in over 100 countries around the world. It is also getting worse as over 6 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are being applied each year in the United States, on more than 50 different crops.

Based on the 2016 reports, the chemical was expected to be banned by the EPA after being ordered by the courts to decide on its safety by March 31, 2017. On March 29, with the new Trump administration in charge and Scott Pruitt running the EPA, the EPA refused to ban the chemical. A meeting between Pruitt and the CEO of Dow Chemical in March 2017 may have heavily influenced the EPA decision of that time.

Numerous groups, including advocacy organizations and state attorneys general, appealed the EPA’s flawed decision. Those appeals eventually reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. By a 2-1 decision, the panel ruled against the EPA and ordered the chemical outlawed within 60 days.

In that ruling, Judge Jed S. Rakoff officially “vacated the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 order maintaining a tolerance for the pesticide chlorpyrifos, and remanded to the EPA with directions to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days”. It further said that the judicial panel held “that there was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children”.

With the EPA having justified its heinous act of allowing the poison to continue to be applied claiming there might be future evidence supporting the alleged safety of the chemical, the court said delaying the chlorpyrifos ban based on some hypothetical future discover was wrong. As the Judge further wrote, “The panel held that the EPA cannot refuse to act because of possible contradiction in the future by evidence.” He further held that the EPA’s actions to date were “in direct contravention of the FFDCA and FIFRA”. (FFDCA is shorthand for the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which authorizes the EPA to regulate the use of pesticides on foods. FIFRA is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act; it allows EPA to register pesticides for use to kill insects, fungus, and rodents, subject again to statutory safety regulations.)

The decision went on to say that “Since 2012, [the courts] have issued five separate decisions related to the EPA’s inaction on the chlorpyrifos tolerances”. It slammed the EPA for saying its response to the latest set of objections about the chemicals use as “something the EPA itself has strongly hinted may not come until 2022, if then”. It went on to say that with regards to the EPA’s inaction, “there are no factual questions, let alone ‘complex or technical ones’ at issue – only legal ones.” It then sums things up by saying that, “on the merits of these legal questions, the EPA offers no defense of its inaction, effectively conceding its lawlessness.”

In a message of the strongest support for the decision, Sindy Benavides, Chief Executive Officer of the League of United Latin American Citizens said on August 9 that, “For years corporations like Dow were able to hijack our government to put profit before people. But today the court sided with reason. Children and farmworkers have the right to live and work without risk of poisoning.”

Erik Nicholson, national vice-president of United Farm Workers of America, echoed those comments. “The people who feed us deserve a safe and healthy workplace,” he said. “The EPA has put the women and men who harvest the food we eat every day in harm’s way too long.”