Quantcast

A Pen Isn't the Only Gift Trump Gave Dow Chemical

Insights + Opinion

Perhaps the Senate, in its hearing on Scott Pruitt's nomination to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), should have questioned Pruitt as the chief pediatrician for America's children. As head of the EPA Pruitt gets to decide what is safe for our kids—in the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat and the communities they play. Senators didn't ask—but they are finding out.


In his first big test of what kind of pediatrician he will be, Pruitt decided to reverse an earlier EPA decision to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a potent nerve gas banned from household use years ago, but still used in farms, orchards, pastures and golf courses.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to the same family as the nerve gas sarin—suspected of being behind the appalling chemical weapon attack which occurred this week in Syria, provoking appropriate outrage from the administration. But EPA has just decided to allow the continued dousing of America's rural landscapes with a close cousin—a different chemical weapon.

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most frequently cited causes of farm-worker pesticide poisoning—but is particularly toxic to young children and the fetus. The pesticide has come across my email screens periodically for over a decade, as organizations like the Nature Resources Defense Council slogged forward, petitioning the EPA to implement a simple requirement of federal pesticide law: that any pesticide must be shown to be safe before use. In 2015 the agency said is intended to ban it—but didn't finalize the decision. Eventually, courts ordered EPA to make a final decision on the ban—and Pruitt decided to ignore the science.

He did not do so because he asserted that chlorpyrifos was safe; he simply said that there were uncertainties, and that in that situation farmers were entitled to continue to use the chemical, exposing farm workers, their children, surrounding communities and consumers of food sprayed with the chemical, to a pesticide whose safety is at best highly dubious—in quantities up to 14,000 times the safe level.

"We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment," Pruitt said—not the message you would expect to hear from a pediatrician if you asked him if you should give your kids foods laced with a potent neurotoxin that has been shown to damage their mental development.

This reversal of the clear requirement of federal pesticide law—that safety come first—along with Pruitt's revealing ordering of his priorities—regulatory certainty to pesticide users first, with human health qualified by "still"—reinforces something we are learning about the Trump administration.

Candidate Trump made a wide array of promises, many of them expressed within the 140 characters of a tweet. Huge numbers contradicted each other. How the administration would resolve those conflicts was one of the great unknowns. Trump, for example, proclaimed that "I want clean air and clean water" during his campaign. But he also pledged to dismantle the EPA.

It has been a fairly consistent pattern in the first 10 weeks of the administration that a campaign promise to help the powerful was likely to be honored, while one to help the vulnerable would be an earlier casualty of priority setting. Children of farm workers don't rank as high as Dow Chemical, the main manufacturer and defender of chlorpyrifos. QED—we know how this administration will come down.

That, of course, is precisely what you don't choose your children's pediatrician for—his loyalty to chemical and drug companies before his concern for your family. There's been a fair amount of media coverage of the decision, which may be a sign that the country is waking up to the fact that Trump's campaign tweet language has consequences, even when the courts and Congress block many of his initiatives.

Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware, has jumped on the chlorpyrifos question, sending Pruitt a sharp query, and pointing out that Pruitt's own decision did not even purport to find the legally necessary "reasonable certainty of no harm" required to allow pesticide residues on food. Carper asked Pruitt to provide him "all documents (including but not limited to emails, legal and other memorandum, drafts of legal or regulatory decisions or orders, white papers, scientific references, letters, telephone logs, meeting minutes and calendars, slides and presentations)" relating to the decision.

Normally, a demand for such documentation is seeking the "smoking gun"—and Pruitt fiercely resisted requests for such documents from his attorney-general's office in Oklahoma until after his confirmation had occurred, seeking to conceal his hand-in-glove cooperation with big oil and coal interests in that office. But while I am very sure Pruitt will resist Carper's request, there is a sad possibility here—that no smoking gun was required, so blandishment's, no elaborate courtship by pesticide interests. Pruitt may simply never have considered any other decision than letting a dangerous chemical be massively applied to America's food supply.

After all, wasn't America at its greatest when the air, food and water were most toxic?

Fake News Alert: Callous as Pruitt's decision to continuing allowing the use of a nerve gas as a tool in American agriculture, there is no evidence, however informed your informant claims to be, that President Trump ordered Pruitt to permit use of chlorpyrifos to please his golf course management.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natdanai Pankong / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Coconut meat is the white flesh inside a coconut.

Read More Show Less
Arx0nt / Moment / Getty Images

By Taylor Jones, RD

Oats are a highly nutritious grain with many health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

Get ready to toast bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. National Pollinator Week is June 17-23 and it's a perfect time to celebrate the birds, bugs and lizards that are so essential to the crops we grow, the flowers we smell, and the plants that produce the air we breathe.

Read More Show Less
Alexander Spatari / Moment / Getty Images

It seems like every day a new diet is declared the healthiest — paleo, ketogenic, Atkins, to name a few — while government agencies regularly release their own recommended dietary guidelines. But there may not be an ideal one-size-fits-all diet, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Logging shown as part of a thinning and restoration effort in the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon on Oct. 22, 2014. Oregon Department of Forestry / CC BY 2.0

The U.S Forest Service unveiled a new plan to skirt a major environmental law that requires extensive review for new logging, road building, and mining projects on its nearly 200 million acres of public land. The proposal set off alarm bells for environmental groups, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Maskot / Getty Images

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to wonder which foods are healthiest.

Read More Show Less
Homes in Washington, DC's Brookland neighborhood were condemned to clear room for a highway in the 1960s. The community fought back. Brig Cabe / DC Public Library

By Teju Adisa-Farrar & Raul Garcia

In the summer of 1969 a banner hung over a set of condemned homes in what was then the predominantly black and brown Brookland neighborhood in Washington, DC. It read, "White man's roads through black men's homes."

Earlier in the year, the District attempted to condemn the houses to make space for a proposed freeway. The plans proposed a 10-lane freeway, a behemoth of a project that would divide the nation's capital end-to-end and sever iconic Black neighborhoods like Shaw and the U Street Corridor from the rest of the city.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators outside a Republican presidential debate in Detroit in 2016. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Michigan prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against government officials involved in the Flint water crisis Thursday, citing concerns about the investigation they had inherited from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, CNN reported.

Read More Show Less