Federal Appeals Court Orders EPA to Ban Harmful Pesticide

The ruling puts another stain on former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's legacy as it rebukes his denial of a petition to ban a pesticide that causes neurodevelopmental damage in children. Pruitt had rejected his own scientists' recommendation.
August 14, 2018, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled 2-1 on Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency must "bar within 60 days a widely used pesticide associated with developmental disabilities and other health problems in children, dealing the industry a major blow after it had successfully lobbied the Trump administration to reject a ban," writes Eric Liptoninvestigative reporter for The New York Times.

The order [pdf] came after a decade-long effort by environmental and public health groups to get the pesticide, chlorpyrifos (pronounced: klawr-pir-uh-fos), removed from the market.

In March 2017, just a month after he was confirmed as the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt rejected a petition by the health and environmental groups to ban the pesticide. He did so even though the agency’s own staff scientists had recommended that chlorpyrifos be removed from the market, based on health studies that had suggested it was harming children, particularly among farmworker families.

A major manufacturer of chlorpyrifos is Dow Chemical. "The full story of Dow Chemical’s involvement in Pruitt’s chlorpyrifos decision is still being uncovered," notes an undated article by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Pruitt's rejection on March 29, 2017, of the EPA scientists' recommendation to ban the product. It goes on to describe "circumstantial evidence" how Dow may have influenced that decision.

The pesticide, widely applied to fruit, nut, cereal and vegetable crops, not only affects agricultural workers but also urban dwellers as it was used to remove insects in apartments, although EPA banned its use indoors in 2000. The health effects are most acute on children, including those "whose mothers had been exposed to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy either in apartments in New York or in agricultural communities where the pesticide is used in California," according to three studies.

The effects on children included lower birth weight and reduced I.Q., with farmworkers also reporting loss of working memory and other health consequences that at times resulted in hospital admissions.

The court ruled [2-1] that there was “no justification for the E.P.A.’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children..."

The lawsuit was filed League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States, with a coalition of environmental, labor, and public health groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network, represented by Earthjustice attorney Marisa Ordonia. The latter two groups had filed the initial petition [pdf] to ban the pesticide in September 2007.

“We must protect our farm workers and our environment for generations to come,” said Domingo Garcia, LULAC National President in a press release:

“For years, our Latino farmworkers and others have toiled in the fields, often mere hours after the pesticide chlorpyrifos was sprayed on the crops where they were working and they have suffered the terrible consequences to their health. Today’s court victory is one more step to a better America.”

Earthjustice noted in their press release that Pruitt had falsely claimed in 2017 that "the science is 'unresolved' [pdf] and decided EPA would study the issue until 2022."

Correspondent's note: The "LULAC vs. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler" [pdf] ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Appeals Court on chlorpyrifos, manufactured by Dow Chemical and other chemical companies, should not be confused with another high-profile court ruling announced Friday: "Monsanto Ordered to Pay $289 Million in Roundup Cancer Trial."

Roundup is an herbicide, or weedkiller, manufactured by Monsanto. The jury ruling was by the Superior Court of San Francisco.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, August 9, 2018 in The New York Times
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