Trump's Pick to Head Interior Blocked Report Warning of Pesticide Risk to 1,000+ Endangered Species
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who faces a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday after President Donald Trump nominated him to head Interior permanently, acted to block a report that found that two pesticides "jeopardize the continued existence" of more than 1,200 endangered species, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
In 2017, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) scientists completed a report on the threat posed by three pesticides to endangered species. But before they could make it public that November, they were stopped by top political appointees including then-Deputy Secretary Bernhardt, who instead initiated a new process using a narrower standard for assessing risk, The New York Times reported. The Times' investigative report is based on more than 84,000 pages of Interior Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act requests by the Times and CBD.
"It's outrageous that Trump, Bernhardt and the industry hacks inhabiting this administration are speeding the extinction of nearly 1,400 endangered species by refusing to take any action on chlorpyrifos," CBD environmental health director Lori Ann Burd said in a statement. "If political appointees weren't stopping the government's own scientists from doing their jobs, this brain-damaging, wildlife-killing horror of a pesticide would already be banned."
The original study was part of a re-registration of the three pesticides, a process that takes place every 15 years. It found that chlorpyrifos put 1,399 species at risk while the pesticide malathion put 1,284 at risk and diazinon put 175 at risk. One species put at risk by pesticides was the San Joaquin kit fox, a five pound animal that had once been widely present in the California valley until pesticides like diazinon poisoned the grasses and birds it fed on. The FWS also found that the Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Florida was put in danger by the spraying of chlorpyrifos.
"For many vulnerable species, a single exposure could be catastrophic," the original report said.
EXCLUSIVE: Scientists at Interior Depart spent several years-& thousands of hours-studying impact 3 pesticides have… https://t.co/HMebrmBaNZ— Eric Lipton (@Eric Lipton)1553604142.0
The new standard being used to assess risk was "one that pesticide makers and users had lobbied intensively to promote," The New York Times reported. The New York Times reported that chlorpyrifos-maker Dow Agrosciences, which was recently renamed Corteva, had donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration committee. The company said the donation was not related to the policy change, but Corteva spokesperson Gregg M. Schmidt said the new policy would lead to "a better understanding of where and how pesticides are being used."
FWS staff wrote their original report assuming that the pesticides were being sprayed the maximum amount legally allowed on their labels, while the industry argued that they should base their findings on actual use. FWS staffers argued that historic usage data would not reflect how pesticides might be used in the future. Label limits are also legally enforceable.
The staff had worked literally thousands of hours--for years. Four biologists. Four toxicologists at Fish & Wildlif… https://t.co/Qk0RpH47nB— Eric Lipton (@Eric Lipton)1553605578.0
Former EPA official Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, who left the agency in late 2017, said that the shift in policy at Interior was consistent with what she had experienced at the EPA during the Trump administration. "It is certainly similar to the pattern we saw in toxic chemicals as well, where the regulated industry had a more sympathetic ear in the new administration," Cleland-Hamnett told The New York Times. "And that resulted in a shift in approach as to how these issues would be handled."
FWS spokesperson Laury Marshall Parramore told CNN that the agency has "continuously refined (their) methodology."
"This has necessitated delaying the release of the draft biological opinions but will ultimately ensure that they are legally sound and based on the best available scientific information," she said.
#Trump #EPA OKs 'Emergency' to Dump Bee-Killing #Pesticide on 16 Million Acres https://t.co/w8AVtDSyBU @bpncamp @pesticideaction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1550541611.0
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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