Judge Orders EPA to Ban Pesticide Linked to Brain Damage in Children

A federal appeals court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 10 to ban the sale of a commonly-used pesticide that has been linked to learning disabilities in children. [1]

In a 2-to-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded that the EPA offered “no defense” of its decision to keep the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, on the market, and violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in failing to ban the chemical. Under the law, the EPA is required to ban chemicals from being used on food if they have been proven to be toxic to humans.

The EPA has 60 days to finalize a ban.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the court’s opinion: [2]

“The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA 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.”

The agency was reviewing the decision, according to Michael Abboud, spokesman for acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, but it had been unable to “fully evaluate the pesticide using the best available, transparent science.”

In March 2017, now-disgraced former EPA chief Scott Pruitt signed an order allowing the organophosphate insecticide to remain on the market for agricultural use. Chlorpyrifos has been applied to various crops since the 1960’s, including broccoli and cranberries. [1]

The agency proposed a permanent ban on applying chlorpyrifos to food crops in November 2015, citing risks to human health. The proposal was fueled by a risk-assessment memo issued by 9 EPA scientists that concluded: [2]

“There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos.”

However, Pruitt put the kibosh on those plans in March 2017 in what was one of his first – and most infuriating – decisions as head of the agency. No real reason was given for the reversal, but Pruitt claimed that the Obama administration had used sketchy studies “whose application is novel and uncertain” to conclude that chlorpyrifos was a dangerous chemical, but vowed that the EPA would continue to study its effects. [1]

It should be noted that Pruitt reversed the Obama-era decision just 20 days after his official schedule showed a meeting with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. Liveris was heading a White House manufacturing working group at the time, and he had written a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural activities. [2]

Then-EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said that the meeting never occurred and that the 2 men only shared “a brief introduction in passing” while attending the same industry conference in Houston, and that they never discussed chlorpyrifos.

Yet internal EPA memos released earlier in 2018 following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by the Sierra Club seemed to indicate the men did, in fact, meet.

A Little About Toxic Chlorpyrifos

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Dow Chemical Co. created chlorpyrifos in the 1960’s and it quickly became one of the most widely-used agricultural pesticides in the United States. The company’s subsidiary, Dow AgroSciences, sells approximately 5 million pounds of the chemical each year. [1]

Chlorpyrifos is part of a group of pesticides known as organophosphates that are similar in their chemical composition to a nerve gas developed by the Nazis during World War II.

Due to its widespread use, traces of chlorpyrifos is commonly found in drinking water. In 2012, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87% of blood samples taken from the umbilical cords of newborn babies contained detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.

Pressured by federal regulators, Dow voluntarily pulled chlorpyrifos intended for household use from the market in 2012. Additionally, the EPA established “no-spray” buffer zones around schools and other sensitive sites in 2012.

Chlorpyrifos has been found to lower intelligence and decrease cognitive function in children, while research shows that pregnant women who are exposed to the pesticide are at risk of giving birth to a child with “significant abnormalities” in brain structure. This is the case even at low or moderate levels of exposure.

Prenatal and early childhood exposure to chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides have also been found to decrease lung function in ways similar to exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke.

Furthermore, chlorpyrifos has been linked to attention deficits, delayed development, and poor school performance in children.

Senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Erik Olson said the court’s order forcing the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos represents “a victory for parents everywhere.”

“Some things are too sacred to play politics with – and our kids top the list. The court has made it clear that children’s health must come before powerful polluters.”


[1] The Huffington Post

[2] ABC News

Group of Senators Push for Ban of the Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

A group of senators introduced a bill on July 25, 2017 in the hopes of banning Chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide implicated in the poisonings of farm workers. Introduced by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the bill challenges President Trump’s efforts to loosen environmental regulations. [1]

Chlorpyrifos Ban and Recent History

  • In April 2017, the EPA said it would not ban chlorpyrifos, despite the agency’s own chemical safety experts, who had recommended under the Obama administration that the pesticide be permanently banned from agricultural use nationwide, due to the dangers it poses to farm workers and young children.
  • In late 2016, the EPA concluded that chlorpyrifos exposure was causing potentially significant health issues, including learning and memory declines, especially among farm workers and young children.
  • On July 18, 2017, a federal appeals court denied a petition by green groups to force the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. [2]

Several manufacturers produce chlorpyrifos, including Dow Chemical. It is listed as a neurotoxin by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

EPA: 97% of Endangered Species Threatened By 2 Pesticides, Including Chlorpyrifos

According to Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who is dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, the toxicity of chlorpyrifos was proven “to damage the brains of children, especially those of fetuses in the womb” in 3 long-term, independently-funded studies “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Toxic residues of chlorpyrifos are regularly found on fruits and vegetables, including under the peels of oranges and other citrus fruits, as well as in the flesh of melons under the rind. Simply washing a piece of fruit before eating it is not enough to remove the pesticide. [2]

The EPA’s own scientists concluded that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children could exceed safety levels by 140 times.

The agency’s failure to ban chlorpyrifos could be construed as criminal, considering it is illegal under federal law to apply pesticides to food crops if the EPA can’t prove that they can be used safely.

Under the bill, the EPA would be required to conduct a broad review of the uses of chlorpyrifos to determine which groups are most vulnerable to the toxin. Should that review conclude that people are being exposed to harmful levels of the pesticide, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt would be forced to take “appropriate regulatory action” within 3 months by either suspending or revoking chlorpyrifos’ registration, or lowering the amount that can be legally applied. [1]

Udall stated:

“Congress must act because Administrator Pruitt has shown that he won’t.”

Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland, Kamala Harris of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Ed Markey of Massachusetts are co-sponsoring the piece of legislation. [1]


[1] Reuters

[2] National Resources Defense Council

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