EPA Refuses to Ban Dangerous Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

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Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt announced Wednesday his decision not to ban the agricultural use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. This announcement was made despite a 2015 ban proposal following findings of neurological harm linked to exposure to the chemical.

This decision could keep the EPA from reconsidering chlorpyrifos’ status until 2022.

Chlorpyrifos has been used in the United States since 1965, but it was banned for indoor and home applications in 2000. Research has since been conducted on its safety, and while at first, it was believed that residue on food was not enough to induce measurable nervous system dysfunction, studies conducted last year at Columbia University linked the agricultural use of the pesticide to “small but measurable differences in brain function,” particularly in children and fetuses, explains NPR. These include delays and problems in learning, social skills, motor function, and other developmental domains.

“At age 7, the average IQ of children who had been exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos was a few percentage points lower than children who hadn't been exposed to much of the chemical at all," writes NPR's Dan Charles. "Other studies showed that some people are much more vulnerable to chlorpyrifos because of their genetic makeup."

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed a petition against the pesticide in 2007, is actively opposing this decision.

“We have a law that requires the EPA to ban pesticides that it cannot determine are safe, and the EPA has repeatedly said this pesticide is not safe,” Patti Goldman, managing attorney at Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group that serves as the legal team for NRDC, told the New York Times.

Pruitt’s announcement follows a January letter from Dow Chemical Co., which sells chlorpyrifos under the brand name Lorsban, accusing the EPA of short-circuiting the scientific review of the chemical to the detriment of the company and the American farmers that use it.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos,” Pruitt said in a statement.

Around 40,000 American farms still use chlorpyrifos, with more than six million pounds of the chemical being used every year. About a quarter of the chlorpyrifos in the United States is used in California.

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