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Lawsuit Against EPA Seeks Protection From Dangerous Pesticide Malathion

Chris Alberti / CC BY 2.0

Conservation and public health groups sued the Trump administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt on Wednesday for failing to protect endangered wildlife and the environment from the dangerous pesticide malathion.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to complete the legally required steps to fully assess and limit the dangers of the neurotoxin.


Malathion is linked to developmental disorders in children and has been found by the World Health Organization to be "probably carcinogenic to humans." Last year EPA scientists determined that the pesticide, manufactured by Dow Chemical, poses widespread risks to protected plants and animals.

"It's deplorable that the Trump administration is putting human health and endangered wildlife at risk to please Dow," said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump and Pruitt aren't above the law and they have to take reasonable steps to limit the harms of this dangerous pesticide."

In January 2017 the EPA determined in a biological evaluation that 97 percent of federally protected species are likely harmed by malathion. And the National Marine Fisheries Service issued a biological opinion concluding malathion harmed or killed 38 protected species under the agency's jurisdiction.

As part of a legal settlement, government scientists were required to issue a final opinion by the end of last year identifying ways to safeguard endangered species from malathion.

But after the Trump administration took office, Dow officials asked the EPA and other federal agencies to abandon years of work assessing the harms of several pesticides, including malathion. Seven months later the EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service indefinitely suspended the malathion assessment.

"Pruitt's EPA continues to roll back health and environmental protections in favor of corporate profit," said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. "EPA's decisions must be based on sound science, not corporate politics."

Around 1 million pounds of malathion are used nationwide annually. The neurotoxin is part of the dangerous class of organophosphate pesticides used as a nerve agent in chemical warfare. They have been linked to Gulf War syndrome, which has symptoms that include fatigue, headaches, skin problems and breathing disorders.

"It is unacceptable to ignore the range of well-documented dangers with this outdated class of organophosphate pesticides," said Sarah Aird, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform. "Malathion is one of the most dangerous pesticides still available on the market."

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health and Californians for Pesticide Reform.

Background
For decades the EPA refused to comply with its legal mandate to protect endangered species from the impacts of pesticides. But following a two-year review by the National Academy of Sciences, the federal government initiated a highly public and transparent process to analyze the impacts of three insecticides, including malathion.

During this process Dow provided extensive comments urging the agencies to abandon the legally required effort. The Center for Biological Diversity recently sued the Trump administration to force officials to release details on Dow's influence over the delay of government studies detailing the dangers of malathion.

In January 2017 Dow was one of three companies that donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration. Shortly thereafter the EPA shocked public health advocates by abruptly scrapping a proposed federal ban on the organophosphate chlorpyrifos, which is known to cause brain damage in children.

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