Quantcast
Popular

Why Won't the EPA Ban This Extremely Toxic Pesticide?

By Nicole Greenfield

The pesticide industry and Dow Chemical have a new reason to cheer. The rest of us appear to be stuck with chlorpyrifos on our food, at least for the time being.


On March 29, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the EPA would reverse a proposed ban on this extremely harmful pesticide and allow it to remain on the market. The move adds to the Trump administration's growing roster of decisions informed by "alternative facts." Nearly two decades' worth of scientific studies—including analyses by Pruitt's own agency—have documented the numerous risks this bug-killer poses to children and pregnant women.

What's more, exposure to chlorpyrifos, one of the most widely used insecticides in the U.S., is extremely difficult to avoid. Farmers across the U.S. spray approximately five million pounds of it every year on crops like apples, oranges, broccoli and walnuts―more than one million pounds of it in agriculture-rich California alone.

Part of a family of nerve agents developed during World War II, chlorpyrifos, unsurprisingly, has incredible potential for harm. Research shows that exposure to this pesticide can increase the risk for behavioral issues and serious neurological damage in children, including ADHD, developmental delays and lower IQs. Scientists and doctors consider these neurological effects to be "permanent, irreversible and lifelong." Studies have also shown that children exposed to chlorpyrifos and other closely related pesticides face greater risk of developing asthma-like symptoms and diminished lung function.

A November 2016 assessment by the Obama EPA emphasized the health threats and, for the first time, highlighted the extent to which children and pregnant women are vulnerable to them. The agency found unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos residue lurking on some of our favorite fruits, vegetables and nuts—even after they were washed, peeled or cracked. And food isn't the only way people are exposed. Many farmworkers and families who live in agricultural communities also encounter the pesticide in the air they breathe and the water they drink.

The dangers of chlorpyrifos were evident long before last year's analysis—so evident that, as a result of pressure from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the EPA decided to ban the chemical for household use in 2000 (in pest-control products). But scientists and health experts remained concerned about its other uses. That's why, in 2007, NRDC and Pesticide Action Network petitioned the EPA to finish the job by also banning agricultural applications.

"After we achieved better protections for kids in the home, we were still concerned that chlorpyrifos sprayed on crops was poisoning agricultural communities, farmworkers and their families and contaminating fruits and vegetables," NRDC staff scientist Veena Singla said. According to an April 2014 report by the California Department of Public Health, farms spray toxic pesticides within a quarter mile of more than 430 schools in California's Central Valley. And the EPA's 2016 assessment found that air contamination in California's agricultural areas puts pregnant women at risk—levels of chlorpyrifos measured in the air in one town were found to be 44 times higher than what's deemed acceptable. These impacts disproportionately endanger communities of color. Latino children are almost two times more likely than white children to attend schools near fields with the heaviest pesticide use. Latinos also make up the majority of residents living in homes adjacent to sprayed fields.

Finally, in response to the indisputable facts presented by scientists and health advocates highlighting the risk to children from chlorpyrifos, the Obama EPA proposed a total ban in October 2015 and affirmed the need for the ban last November. Unfortunately, faced with a court-mandated deadline for a decision by March 31, Pruitt chose to deny his agency's own scientific conclusions, giving a boost to Dow Chemical (the maker of chlorpyrifos) and the pesticide industry at the expense of kids across the country.

"This is yet another example of EPA Administrator Pruitt's willingness to go against the scientific conclusions of the agency's own staff and sacrifice children's health for industry profits," said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist in NRDC's health and environment program. "It's very similar to what we've already seen out of Pruitt's office on climate and water protections. His claims of the need for more study are unfounded."

And it turns out that what Pruitt did—reverse a proposed ban without providing new scientific evidence that chlorpyrifos can be safely used in agriculture—is unlawful. So NRDC, Pesticide Action Network and Earthjustice are taking the EPA administrator to court. "They actually didn't make a decision as the court directed them to do repeatedly; they just kicked the can down the road another five years," Rotkin-Ellman explained. "EPA proposed the ban because chlorpyrifos is putting kids at risk, the administrator has offered no science to show that this dangerous pesticide is safe, and so EPA must implement the ban."

As we wait for federal action, parents of small children or those with kids on the way, can protect their families by purchasing organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Chlorpyrifos and related toxic pesticides are prohibited on organic produce.

Fortunately, the EPA is not the only option. NRDC, as part of the Californians for Pesticide Reform coalition, is asking Gov. Jerry Brown to step in, follow the science, and implement a ban on chlorpyrifos use within the state to protect both Californians and those who eat California produce. The American people shouldn't have to stand for "alternative science" that puts our health at stake.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Food
Workers collect salt crystals on Aug. 22 at Aigues-Mortes where the salt pans cover 10,000 hectares. PASCAL GUYOT / AFP / Getty Images

90% of Table Salt Is Contaminated With Mircroplastics

By Julia Conley

A year after researchers at a New York university discovered microplastics present in sea salt thanks to widespread plastic pollution, researchers in South Korea set out to find out how pervasive the problem is—and found that 90 percent of salt brands commonly used in homes around the world contain the tiny pieces of plastic.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Japan's cherry blossoms are unexpectedly blooming this autumn. Coniferconifer / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cherry Blossoms are Blooming Across Japan. It's October.

Each year, Japan's iconic cherry blossoms herald the arrival of spring. But after a bout of extreme weather, blooms are being reported several months early.

The Japanese weather site Weathernews said it had received more than 350 reports of blossoms throughout the country. The flowers usually appear in March or April.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Bloede Dam removal in process. Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fishing and Boating Services / YouTube

4 Exciting Dam-Removal Projects to Watch

By Tara Lohan

For much of the 20th century humans got really good at dam building. Dams—embraced for their flood protection, water storage and electricity generation—drove industry, built cities and helped turn deserts into farms. The United States alone has now amassed more than 90,000 dams, half of which are 25 feet tall or greater.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
FoodPrint helps identify local and seasonal produce with its Seasonal Food Guide. FoodPrint / Facebook

Find Out Your 'Foodprint': New Website Helps You Shop, Cook and Eat More Sustainably

Two days after World Food Day, an innovative nonprofit has launched a website to help you reduce the environmental impact of the food you eat.

FoodPrint, designed by GRACE Communications Foundation, was created to educate consumers about everything that goes into common food items, from farm to fridge, so that they can make sustainable choices.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified Aug. 1 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Win McNamee / Getty Images

Acting EPA Head Is Still Unconfirmed After 100+ Days in Position

Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), might continue to oversee the office without Senate confirmation until President Trump's term is over, according to reports from Bloomberg and the Huffington Post.

The former coal lobbyist has been the temporary EPA boss for more than 100 days ever since his predecessor Scott Pruitt resigned in July after a long list of ethics scandals.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Volunteers prepare to take flow measurements on Muddy Creek. Centre County Pennsylvania Senior Environmental Corps / CC BY-ND

How Monitoring Local Water Supplies Can Build Community

By John M. Carroll

Water insecurity is a touchstone for 2018. Our planet isn't running out of water, but various kinds of mismanagement have led to local water crises across the planet, directly threatening millions of people.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Inti St Clair / Getty Images

When It Comes to Sustainability, We’re a Society of Distracted Drivers

By Richard Heinberg

Driving is dangerous. In fact, it's about the riskiest activity most of us engage in routinely. It requires one's full attention—and even then, things can sometimes go horribly awry. The brakes fail. Weather turns roads to ice. A driver in the oncoming lane falls asleep. Tragedy ensues. But if we're asleep at the wheel, the likelihood of calamity skyrockets. That's why distracted driving is legally discouraged: no cell phones, no reading newspapers or books, no hanky-panky with the front-seat passenger. If you're caught, there's a hefty fine.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Last month's temperatures across land and sea tied with 2017 as the fourth highest for September in the 1880-2018 record. NOAA

2018 Likely to Rank as Fourth-Hottest Year on Record

After a summer of record-breaking heatwaves and devastating wildfires, 2018 is shaping up to be one of the planet's hottest years in recorded history.

From January through September, the average global temperature was 1.39°F above the 20th century average of 57.5°F, making it the fourth warmest year-to-date on record, and only 0.43°F lower than the record-high set in 2016 for the same period, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA) announced Wednesday. NOAA's global temperature dataset record dates back to 1880.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!