The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sided with industry over science, deciding not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos despite its own convincing evidence that the chemical harms children’s brains.
Issuing the decision, the agency denied “claims regarding neurodevelopmental toxicity,” stating “objections and the underlying Petition are not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence” demonstrating the health dangers of chlorpyrifos.
Introduced by Dow Chemical in 1965, chlorpyrifos is a nerve agent sprayed on corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, brussel sprouts, cranberries, broccoli, and cauliflower as well as other row crops.
A national study found traces of the chemical on the fruits and vegetables in 91% of American kitchens.
In response to the EPA’s decision to allow commercial use, California regulators took formal steps this week to bar the use of chlorpyrifos in the state by the end of the month. California growers are the largest users of the pesticide, spraying close to 1 million pounds of it in 2017 to almonds, grapes, citrus, alfalfa, stone fruit, and other crops, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
Chlorpyrifos Already Outlawed for Home Use
The EPA banned residential use of chlorpyrifos in 2000 to comply with safety standards in the Food Quality Protection Act. But the agency continued to allow its commercial use despite research over the years linking the nerve agent to autism, ADHD, reduced birth weight, lower IQ, and learning difficulties in children.
In 2016, a damning EPA report concluded that “most individual food crops” contained potentially harmful levels of chlorpyrifos. The head of the EPA at the time agreed that chlorpyrifos could not meet the required statutory finding of a “reasonable certainty of no harm.”
The Politics of Poison
Under the Trump administration, the EPA has pushed through unprecedented rollbacks of environmental and safety protections, including continuing to support the use of chlorpyrifos on crops meant for human consumption, according to ProPublica.
“The EPA knows this stuff is toxic—its own scientists have been sounding the alarm for years now,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is part of a coalition of groups suing the administration over the pesticide. “But this administration is shameless in its push to keep it on the market.”
Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration events and spent $13.6 million in 2016 alone to lobby lawmakers to prevent a ban on commercial use of chlorpyrifos.
In a statement, Dow cheered the EPA decision, invalidating studies linking its product to neurological damage.
The company said, “There is no credible, growing body of animal toxicology evidence corroborating the epidemiology studies claiming neurodevelopmental effects at exposure levels below the current regulatory standard.”