EPA director Scott Pruitt has signed an order approving the continued use of a controversial pesticide – one that his own agency recommended banning in 2015 because it was scientifically proven to cause brain damage in children.
In a statement, Pruitt said:
“By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results.”
But Pruitt’s decision is quite clearly not based on sound science. In fact, the pesticide in question, chlorpyrifos, was only on the chopping block because mounting scientific evidence suggested that it was dangerous – and posed a special risk to children.
Chlorpyrifos was developed as a chemical weapon in the years prior to World War II, and began being used as a pesticide in 1965. Today, U.S. farms use over 6 million pounds of the stuff.
And as Tom Philpott of Mother Jones reported, it’s a “nasty piece of work:”
“Major studies from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of California-Davis, and Columbia University have found strong evidence that low doses of chlorpyrifos inhibits kids’ brain development, including when exposure occurs in the womb, with effects ranging from lower IQ to higher rates of autism.”
Back in 1995, the EPA fined DowElanco (now called Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical) $732,000 for failing to report 249 incidents of pesticide poisoning, including cases of chlorpyrifos poisoning, in a timely manner. The EPA news release states:
“Reported adverse effects, which span about a decade, included cases of peripheral neuropathy and other chronic neurological effects. Peripheral neuropathy involves the nerves of the arms and legs; symptoms include numbness, burning and tingling, as well as muscle weakness or difficulty with coordinated movement. Other chronic neurological effects reported included persistent headaches, visual disturbances, problems with memory, concentration, confusion, and depression. A few incidents involved other problems such as asthma or birth defects.”
In 2000, chlorpyrifos was banned in homes, but agricultural use continued. Today, Midwestern farmers usually use it on corn and soybeans. Farmers in the Southeast, California, and Washington use it on fruits and vegetables.
In 2015, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network petitioned the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos’ agricultural use. And according to the Washington Post:
“…Dozens of scientific researchers, doctors and public health professionals had joined the environmental groups in urging the EPA to prohibit all use of chlorpyrifos.”
The EPA was amenable to the ban, and had until Friday to finalize it. But yesterday, Scott Pruitt decided to nix the regulation, caving to agricultural interests and the mega-corporation Dow Chemical.
Environmental groups were justifiably outraged by the decision. Patti Goldman, a lawyer with Earthjustice, said:
“EPA’s refusal to ban this dangerous pesticide is unconscionable. EPA is defying its legal obligation to protect children from unsafe pesticides.”
Goldman said Earthjustice will seek a court order to reverse the EPA’s decision.
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, issued a statement reading:
“The chance to prevent brain damage in children was a low bar for most of Scott Pruitt’s predecessors, but it apparently just wasn’t persuasive enough for an administrator who isn’t sure if banning lead from gasoline was a good idea. Instead, in one of his first major decisions as head of the EPA, like a toddler running toward his parents, Pruitt leaped into the warm and waiting arms of the pesticide industry.”
“Sound science” means something. It means rigorous, independent, and impartial review – not rubber-stamping a Big Ag wishlist. It’s bad enough that the Trump administration’s EPA is not doing good science. But the truly troubling thing is the fact that they’re passing off bad science as good science.
Featured image via YouTube video.