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American Oversight and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today launched a joint investigation into the March 29 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected the findings of the agency's own experts as well as the broader scientific community, which had concluded that chlorpyrifos poses a risk of nervous system damage and birth defects in children.

"As Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt routinely coordinated with industry to roll back environmental safeguards, now he's doing the same thing at the EPA," said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. "This time, it's at the expense of our children. Americans have a right to know who influenced the EPA to suddenly reverse course and put pesticide industry profits ahead of children's health."

American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests Tuesday with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), seeking copies of communications between agency officials, pesticide manufacturers and outside groups that have advocated for the continued use of chlorpyrifos. Specifically, the FOIA requests ask for communications with Croplife, Dow Chemical, DowAgrosciences and think tanks including the Heritage Foundation.

The EPA and USDA have 20 business days to respond to the requests. Absent that, American Oversight will sue to obtain the records.

Last year, EPA scientists concluded that chlorpyrifos poses serious health risks, including problems with learning and memory for children. According to the New York Times, chlorpyrifos was banned from most household uses nearly two decades ago, but it is still used today "at about 40,000 farms on about 50 different types of crops, ranging from almonds to apples."

EWG has spent more than two decades focused on the impacts of pesticides on children's health and was instrumental in the passage of the landmark 1996 Food Quality Protection Act that required the EPA to implement health-based standards for all pesticides used in food, with special safeguards for infants and babies.

"Public health experts, pediatricians and EPA scientists all agree that chlorpyrifos is unsafe for children at any level," said EWG Senior VP for Government Affairs Scott Faber.

"That overwhelming and uniform agreement among experts should have been all the information Administrator Pruitt needed to protect kids from this notorious neurotoxin. Yet, he decided instead to side with Croplife, Dow and the rest of chemical agriculture and allow chlorpyrifos to remain in use," Faber continued.

"Mr. Pruitt must provide taxpayers with all of the documents, details and communications between EPA, USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and the pesticide industry in order to shed light on how and why the decision was made to continue exposing kids to a pesticide that, even at very low levels, can cause brain damage."

Ahead of Pruitt's action on chlorpyrifos, EWG, along with Just Label It and Food Revolution Network, received more than 80,000 signatures to a petition calling on Pruitt to ban the neurotoxic crop chemical and continue the EPA's longstanding efforts to protect people from exposure to dangerous organophosphate pesticides.

Health

For decades, Shell and Dow hid a highly potent cancer-causing chemical in two widely used pesticides, contaminating drinking water for millions of people in California and beyond, according to lawsuits detailed in a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The chemical 1,2,3-trichloropropane or TCP, was formerly an unwanted and ineffective byproduct in Dow's Telone and Shell's D-D pesticides. Internal documents uncovered in lawsuits filed by communities in California's San Joaquin Valley show that the companies saved millions of dollars a year by not properly disposing of TCP, a chemical a Dow scientist once called "garbage," as hazardous waste.

Shell stopped making D-D in 1984 and Dow later took TCP out of Telone, but not before it contaminated the tap water supplies of 94 California utility districts serving 8 million people.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testing program found TCP in tap water supplies for about 4 million people in 13 other states between 2013 and 2015, but the chemical is unregulated at the federal level and in every state except Hawaii.

Regulators in California will meet next week to decide whether to set a legal limit for TCP in tap water. Shell and Dow have paid multi-million dollar settlements to some communities to pay for filtering TCP out of water supplies, but dozens more cases are pending.

Dow and Shell "should have taken it out and disposed of it properly as a toxic waste. But that would have cost them a lot of money, so they left it in and continued to sell these pesticides to farmers throughout California," said Asha Kreiling, an analyst with the Community Water Center, which along with Clean Water Action has pushed the state to set a legal limit.

"This is an outrageous story of how Shell and Dow essentially got farmers who bought the pesticide to pay to help them get rid of a hazardous waste," said Bill Walker, EWG's managing editor and co-author of the report. "How many other hidden examples are there of chemical companies endangering communities through toxic deception?"

TCP was synthesized in the 1930s as one of many byproducts from the manufacture of a chemical used to make plastics. After pineapple growers in Hawaii found that the mixture of byproducts could kill microscopic worms called nematodes, Shell and Dow began marketing slightly different formulations of the mixture and eventually D-D and Telone became the second most heavily used pesticides in California.

But San Francisco attorney Todd Robins, who represents many smaller communities whose water is contaminated with TCP, said the companies knew TCP was useless as a pesticide—in fact, it made the products less effective. Yet both Shell and Dow claimed on the labels that the products were 100 percent active ingredients—false claims that violated federal regulations for registering pesticides. Robins also said the companies knew as early as 1952 that TCP in fumigants did not break down in soil and could migrate into groundwater. Once there, it persists for centuries.

In 2009, California state scientists set an extraordinarily low public health goal for TCP in drinking water of less than 1 part per trillion. Public health goals are not enforceable legal limits but minimal risk levels expected to cause no more than one case of cancer in a million people who drink and shower with the water daily for a lifetime. The only chemical with a lower California public health goal is dioxin, considered one of the most toxic substances known to science.

Staff of the California State Water Resources Control Board have proposed a legal limit of 5 parts per trillion, the lowest level current technology can reliably detect. A public hearing on the proposed standard, which is supported by Community Water Center, Clean Water Action, EWG and other groups, will be held April 19 in Sacramento.

"Shell and Dow put greed for profits ahead of the health of the people who bought and used their products," said Andria Ventura, toxics program manager for Clean Water Action. "We can't reverse the tragic consequences, but setting a drinking water standard that's fully protective of public health can stem the threat going forward."

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By Alex Formuzis and Sonya Lunder

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt stuck to his long-standing practice of ignoring science, disregarding data that shows the pesticide chlorpyrifos could harm kids' brains.

Instead of banning it as scheduled, Pruitt caved to pressure from pesticide lobbyists and allowed continued use of a chemical that studies by his agency's scientists and academic researchers have found to contaminate some fruits and vegetables at potentially unsafe levels.

In its annual tests for pesticide residues on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found chlorpyrifos on a variety of produce, most of it imported. But just because Pruitt and President Trump want children to shut up and eat their pesticides doesn't mean they have to.

If you want to avoid feeding your family produce that may contain chlorpyrifos residue even after it has been thoroughly washed, choose organic versions for these fruits and vegetables:

  • Imported peaches from Chile (20 percent of samples tested positive).
  • Imported nectarines from Chile (13 percent of samples tested positive).
  • Imported bell peppers from Mexico (22 percent of samples tested positive).
  • Imported hot peppers from Mexico (15 percent samples tested positive).
  • Domestic and imported cilantro (27 percent of samples tested positive).

According to the EPA, chlorpyrifos is applied to more than 30 percent of apples, asparagus, walnuts, onions, grapes, broccoli, cherries and cauliflower grown in the U.S. While residues of chlorpyrifos are rarely detected on these crops, farm workers and their families are regularly exposed. Chlorpyrifos can also contaminate drinking water.

In one of his first major decisions as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, Scott Pruitt sided with the pesticide lobby over scientists Wednesday in an eleventh-hour decision to abort the agency's proposal to ban chlorpyrifos—an insecticide that at small doses can harm children's brains and nervous systems—from use on food crops.

Pruitt and the Trump administration's decision ignored overwhelming evidence that even small amounts of chlorpyrifos can damage parts of the brain that control language, memory, behavior and emotion. Multiple independent studies have documented that exposure to chlorpyrifos impairs children's IQs and EPA scientists' assessments of those studies concluded that levels of the pesticide found on food and in drinking water are unsafe.

"The chance to prevent brain damage in children was a low bar for most of Scott Pruitt's predecessors, but it apparently just wasn't persuasive enough for an administrator who isn't sure if banning lead from gasoline was a good idea," said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook. "Instead, in one of his first major decisions as head of the EPA, like a toddler running toward his parents, Pruitt leaped into the warm and waiting arms of the pesticide industry."

In October 2015, the EPA proposed to revoke all uses of chlorpyrifos on food. Late last year, Croplife America—the main trade and lobbying group for the pesticide industry—petitioned the EPA to block the expected ban. In its appeal, Croplife argued that the EPA should disregard the findings of epidemiological studies documenting that the pesticide impaired American children's IQs and brain development.

The EPA's analysis of children's sensitivity to chlorpyrifos drew upon studies by Columbia University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the University of California, Berkeley. In 2007 the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network petitioned the EPA to ban food uses of chlorpyrifos and they later sued the agency to compel a ruling on the petition. The EPA proposed the ban in October 2015 and was under court order to issue a final rule by the end of March.

"We're seeing what happens when President Trump gives an unqualified political hatchet man license to disregard reams of evidence from dedicated scientists," said Cook. "Under President Trump and Scott Pruitt, the EPA is fast becoming an agency in the business of safeguarding the profits of pesticide companies and the rest of the chemical industry, not human health."

In recent days, more than 80,000 people signed a petition from the Environmental Working Group, Just Label It and Food Revolution Network, calling on Pruitt to ban chlorpyrifos and continue the EPA's longstanding efforts to protect people from exposure to dangerous organophosphate pesticides.

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Despite the rapid growth of the organic food industry, U.S. production lags significantly behind consumer demand. A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that with modest reforms to existing programs, Congress could help growers transition away from farming that relies on chemical pesticides and expand the acreage dedicated to organic agriculture.

Between 1997 and 2015, sales in the organic sector soared from $3.7 billion to more than $43 billion. This double-digit growth nearly every year makes the organic sector one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. Major retailers such as Costco report that they can't get enough organic food to meet customer demand.

Yet the gap between supply and demand means many American organic food companies have to rely on foreign suppliers for staples like soybeans, corn and rice—demand that could be met by domestic producers.

"Driven in large part by the multiple environmental and health benefits, Americans' appetites for organic food is seemingly insatiable," said Colin O'Neil, Environmental Working Group's agriculture policy director and author of the report. "The current organic trade deficit presents Congress with a unique chance to expand market opportunities for U.S. producers, while also benefitting consumers, food companies and the environment. With modest reforms to current programs in the next farm bill, Congress can reduce barriers to farmers who want to transition organic methods at no additional cost."

John Paneno, vice president of sourcing for Amy's Kitchen Inc. of Petaluma, California, said increasing the U.S. supply of organic food is essential.

"Amy's continues to see strong consumer growth for our organic products," said Paneno. "We need more programs that help our farmers transition into organic farming so that we can source the ingredients we need domestically and create new jobs for our rural communities."

The Environmental Working Group's report details how Congress can play a role in better positioning American farmers to meet the demand for organics, by increasing the number of organic farms and the amount of organic acreage. Congress has already begun discussing the 2018 Farm Bill, which O'Neil said should include the following modest changes:

  • Reform the Conservation Stewardship Program to create bundles of conservation practices specifically to help producers who want transition to organic.
  • Reform the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative to provide organic and transitioning producers with the same level of support as those in the general funding pool.
  • Reform the Conservation Reserve Program to provide greater incentives for producers to put farmland exiting the program into organic production.

"The organic food industry is now one of the fastest growing, most dynamic parts of the food sector, creating tens of thousands of jobs and producing in-demand foods for millions of Americans" said O'Neil. "Members of Congress should take any simple steps they can to reduce barriers to transition and help expand the organic farm footprint here in the U.S."

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Strawberries remain at the top of the Dirty Dozen list of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, with spinach jumping to second place in the annual ranking of conventionally grown produce with the most pesticide residues.

EWG's analysis of tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce were contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides. USDA researchers found a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples they analyzed. The pesticide residues remained on fruits and vegetables even after they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

"If you don't want to feed your family food contaminated with pesticides, the EWG Shopper's Guide helps you make smart choices, whether you're buying conventional or organic produce," said Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst. "Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they're grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic. If you can't buy organic, the Shopper's Guide will steer you to conventionally grown produce that is the lowest in pesticides."

Lunder said it's particularly important to reduce young children's exposures to pesticides. The pesticide industry and chemical agriculture maintain that pesticides on produce are nothing to worry about, but doctors and scientists strongly disagree.

"Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies and young children, so when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children's exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. "EWG's guide can help by giving consumers easy-to-use advice when shopping for their families."

Landrigan, dean of Global Health and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai, was the principal author of a landmark 1993 National Academy of Sciences study, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. The study led to enactment of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act that set safety standards for pesticides on foods.

For the Dirty Dozen list, EWG singled out produce with the highest loads of pesticide residues. In addition to strawberries and spinach, this year's list includes nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.

Each of these foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce. Pears and potatoes were new additions to the Dirty Dozen, displacing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from last year's list.

Key findings:

  • Nearly all samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.
  • The most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides.
  • Spinach samples had an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Three-fourths of spinach samples had residues of a neurotoxic pesticide banned in Europe for use on food crops—it's part of a class of pesticides that recent studies link to behavioral disorders in young children.

By contrast, EWG's Clean Fifteen list of produce least likely to contain pesticide residues includes sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods and tests found low total concentrations of pesticide residues on them.

"From the surge in sales of organic food year after year, it's clear that that consumers would rather eat fruits and vegetables grown without synthetic pesticides," said Lunder. "But sometimes an all-organic diet is not an option, so they can use the Shopper's Guide to choose a mix of conventional and organic produce."

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Health

By Craig Cox and Soren Rundquist

The Trump administration is threatening to remove safeguards that protect the drinking water of more than one-third of Americans.

Some 117 million people get at least some of their drinking water from small streams. For 72 million people in 1,033 counties, more than half of their drinking water comes from small streams. Ensuring that their water is safe means keeping the water in these streams clean.

More than 72 million Americans in 1,033 counties get more than half of their drinking water from small streams Environmental Working Group, from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral and Headwater Streams in the U.S.

Right now, the Clean Water Act protects these streams from pollution. But this week President Trump issued an executive order directing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to rescind or revise the Clean Water Rule or replace it with a new rule.

This critically important rule determines which streams, rivers and lakes are protected from pollution by the Clean Water Act. The rule also extends protection for millions of acres of wetlands that filter drinking water.

Industry and agribusiness have been pushing for years to roll back the Clean Water Rule and protect only the biggest streams and rivers. Now they've found a friend in the Trump administration.

Small streams are where big rivers start and the best science confirms that dirty streams means even dirtier rivers. Millions of Americans drink water directly connected to 234,000 miles of small, potentially unprotected streams.

In 21 different states, small streams provide drinking water for 1 million or more people. More than 5 million people in each New York, Texas and Pennsylvania get drinking water from small streams, as do more than 3 million in each California, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina and Arizona.

Environmental Working Group, from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral and Headwater Streams in the U.S.

President Trump's executive order immediately threatens drinking water for millions of Americans, but it's not the only threat. Dozens of lawsuits seeking to gut the Clean Water Rule have been filed by industry and agribusiness and states catering to those interests. Congress could meddle with the Clean Water Act itself to deny protection to small streams and wetlands.

The Clean Water Rule is a common-sense safeguard supported by a majority of Americans. It is supported by many cities and towns that depend on unpolluted drinking water sources and natural infrastructure like wetlands to filter pollutants and absorb floodwaters. Small businesses that rely on clean water and healthy wildlife habitats, such as craft breweries and outdoor recreation companies, also strongly support the Clean Water Rule.

Undermining, weakening or rescinding this vital rule is a gift to corporate polluters and Big Ag and a threat to public health and the environment.

The Environmental Working Group analyzed data from a 2009 EPA study that examined "regional patterns of dependence on intermittent, ephemeral and headwater streams to supply public drinking water systems in the United States, using the most recent, valid data available."

The EPA mapped a Source Protection Area or SPA, for every public drinking water system. The agency defined an SPA as "the area upstream from a drinking water intake that provides water to a public drinking water system during a 24-hour period."

The EPA's approach likely underestimates the contribution small steams make to drinking water supplies. Small streams feed the large rivers that millions of people rely on for drinking water, but are too far upstream from the drinking water intake to be included in the EPA's analysis.

In the map below, the blue shaded area is a SPA. Water from streams in the SPA will reach the intake, indicated by a red dot, within 24 hours.

In all, the EPA assessed 413,104 miles of waterways within SPAs. The assessment found that 57 percent or 234,459 stream miles, were intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.

Environmental Protection Agency, Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral and Headwater Streams in the U.S.

The Environmental Working Group used the EPA's data to identify the number of people living in counties that depend most on small streams. We defined these as counties where:

  • 100 percent of residents depend on surface water for drinking water.
  • More than half of the streams providing source water are intermittent, ephemeral or headwaters streams.
  • The local utility serves at least 1,000 people.

Craig Cox is the senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group. Soren Rundquist is director of spatial analysis at the Environmental Working Group.

New research based on nationwide tests shows that many fast food chains still use food wrappers, bags and boxes coated with highly fluorinated chemicals. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) report supplements a new peer-reviewed study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, which shows some of the test samples contained traces of a notorious and now-banned chemical formerly used to make DuPont's Teflon.

Scientists from nonprofit research organizations including EWG, federal and state regulatory agencies and academic institutions collaborated to collect and test samples of sandwich and pastry wrappers, french fry bags, pizza boxes and other paper and paperboard products from 27 fast food chains and several local restaurants in five regions of the U.S. They found that of the 327 samples used to serve food, collected in 2014 and 2015, 40 percent tested positive for fluorine, a likely indicator of the compounds known as PFCs or PFAS chemicals.

EWG, from L. Schaider et al., Fluorinated Compounds in U.S. Fast Food Packaging. Environmental Science and Technology Letters, February 2017.

"Fluorine-based coatings are used in food packaging to repel grease," said David Andrews, Ph.D., EWG senior scientist and co-author of the EWG report and the peer-reviewed paper. "There is very little public information on how much leaching occurs, as there are lots of different types of coatings made with this family of chemicals. Our tests show they are not necessary, because there are PFC-free food wrappers readily available."

Perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs and PFASs, have been linked to cancer, developmental issues, reproductive harm, compromised immune systems and other health effects. Although some PFCs, such as those formerly used to make Teflon and 3M's Scotchgard, have been banned or phased out as hazardous, chemical companies have flooded the market with a new generation of PFCs that have not been adequately tested for safety.

"We don't know enough about the safety of the new generation of PFCs," said Bill Walker, EWG managing editor and co-author of the report. "We know there are dangers of exposure to some of these chemicals at extremely low doses, especially during critical windows of child development. A woman who eats fast food frequently during her pregnancy might consume enough of these chemicals to affect the future health of her child."

DuPont has acknowledged that one of these replacement chemicals does cause cancerous tumors in lab animals. And some of these fluorinated chemicals are migrating from the packaging to food; hot, greasy food actually increases the likelihood of migration.

"It's concerning that people could be exposed to these toxic chemicals through the food they eat," said Dr. Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute and the study's lead author. "PFASs have been linked with numerous health effects including cancer. Children are especially at risk because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals."

"These molecules are very long-lived in the environment and simply don't break down easily and go away," said Graham Peaslee, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame, who discovered a new application method that allows faster analysis of materials that may contain fluorinated chemicals. "Consumer products like papers that are treated with PFAS will decompose long before the treatment does and these chemicals will enter the environment directly from our landfills. This type of long-lived chemical just isn't a sustainable practice: once it is made, it doesn't go away."

National fast food brands source paper from different suppliers, who in turn collect paper from different sources.

"Up and down the line there needs to be a greater level of concern," said Walker. "We're not pointing the finger at the fast food chains or saying it's safer to eat at one chain compared to another. It's possible they're not getting the straight story from their suppliers. This is a snapshot that shows there's a problem and both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the restaurant industry should address it."

EWG's recommendations include:

  • Fast food companies should stop using PFCs or other fluorinated compounds in sandwich or pastry wrappers, fried food containers, pizza boxes or anywhere else where they may come into contact with food. Parent companies should exercise more oversight over their supply chains and the paper sources of their franchises.
  • The FDA should further restrict the use of fluorinated chemicals in food or food-contact materials. The FDA should close the loophole that allows companies to self-certify chemicals as Generally Recognized as Safe.
  • For consumers, exposure to PFCs in food wrappers can be reduced by eating fresh foods and preparing meals at home. Avoid the use of paper tableware and microwave popcorn. For more tips on how to keep these chemicals out of your body and your home, see EWG's Guide to Avoiding PFCs.
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