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Trump’s EPA Won’t Ban Brain-Damaging Pesticide

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A worker in California sprays pesticides on strawberries, one of the crops on which chlorpyrifos is used. Paul Grebliunas / The Image Bank / Getty Images Plus

President Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not ban the agricultural use of chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that the EPA's own scientists have linked to brain damage in children, The New York Times reported Thursday.


The decision, announced Thursday, was a response to a petition from public health and environmental groups who had pushed for a ban. The agency ruled that "critical questions remained regarding the significance of the data" on the pesticide's health effects, according to The Guardian.

The ruling is the latest in a series of Trump EPA decisions that weaken chemical safety rules, The New York Times pointed out. In April, it opted against a full ban on asbestos in favor of restrictions that critics say could usher in new uses. Also this year, it issued restrictions on a paint-stripping chemical that were weaker than a ban proposed during the Obama years. Finally, just last week, it widely expanded the use of the pesticide sulfoxaflor, which its own scientists have shown can harm bees, as HuffPost reported.

"Siding with pesticide corporations over the health and well-being of kids is the new normal at the EPA," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "Today's decision underscores the sad truth that as long as the Trump administration is in charge, this EPA will favor the interests of the chemical lobby over children's safety."

The EPA's decision came after a federal court ordered the agency to make a final call on the ban by mid-July. Chlorpyrifos has been banned for home use since 2000, but farmers have continued to spray it on crops like apples, strawberries, broccoli and corn. The Obama administration had initiated a ban on agricultural uses of the pesticide, but Trump's EPA reversed it, setting off a legal battle with environmental advocates. In the absence of federal action, states have moved against the pesticide on their own. Hawaii became the first state to ban chlorpyrifos in 2018, and California announced it would ban the chemical in May. New York is also moving towards a ban, The New York Times reported.

Research has linked chlorpyrifos exposure to lower IQ, memory loss, breathing problems and increased risk of autism in babies born to mothers who lived near farms where it was sprayed, according to The Guardian.

"What we have with chlorpyrifos is multiple academic research projects that have shown that actual children who actually live in California are being harmed by this chemical," Center for Environmental Health senior scientist Caroline Cox told The Guardian. "It's pretty rare that you have that kind of evidence for any toxic chemical."

So how was the EPA able to decide that the science wasn't conclusive? The New York Times explained that the ruling was a direct consequence of former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's decision to limit the kinds of studies that regulators could use to make decisions:

Under Mr. Pruitt, the agency proposed a rule saying it could not consider scientific research unless the raw data behind it was made public, saying the issue was a matter of transparency. Scientists argued that studies measuring human exposure to pesticides and other chemicals often rely on confidential health information and argued the E.P.A.'s real motivation was to restrict the ability to develop regulations.

In opting not to ban chlorpyrifos, the E.P.A. rejected a major study conducted by Columbia University on its effects on children in New York City. The E.P.A. said because it was unable to obtain the raw data and replicate that study, which linked the insecticide to developmental delays, it could not independently verify the conclusions.

The 12 groups who brought the petition against the EPA vowed to keep fighting.

"We will continue to fight until chlorpyrifos is banned and children and farmworkers are safe from this dangerous chemical," they said in a joint statement reported by Earthjustice, the legal organization that represented the groups.

Former senior EPA attorney Kevin Minoli thought that federal courts would ultimately rule in favor of a ban.

"To me, this starts the clock on the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops in the US," he told the Associated Press.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.