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EPA Scraps Scheduled Ban of Widely Used Pesticide Known to Harm Kids’ Brains

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EPA Scraps Scheduled Ban of Widely Used Pesticide Known to Harm Kids’ Brains

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.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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