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

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Trump’s EPA Won’t Ban Brain-Damaging Pesticide
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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An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

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"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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