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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.

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A second U.S. jury has ruled that Roundup causes cancer.

The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.


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