Two environmental groups filed a complaint against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for its controversial decision to not ban a pesticide linked to neurological, developmental and autoimmune disorders.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network filed their complaint one week after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order denying a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used by farmers to kill corn rootworms and other plant-destroying insects. The decision to allow chlorpyrifos reverses an earlier conclusion reached by the EPA during the Obama administration.
The legal organization Earthjustice is representing the environmental groups in the challenge, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
The groups are calling on the court to direct the EPA to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos within 30 days.
“President Trump and his EPA flouted court orders and EPA’s scientific findings that chlorpyrifos puts children, farmworkers, their families and many others at risk,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. “We are asking the court to protect children by ordering EPA to take action now to band chlorpyrifos.”
Various studies have highlighted the potentially harmful effects of chlorpyrifos throughout the years.
A 2011 study conducted by researchers out of Columbia University measured the levels of chlorpyrifos found in blood from the umbilical cords in a sample of 265 children. The study found that exposure to the pesticide could lead to problems when it comes to memory and brain function. Prior to that study, the researchers had reported that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos was associated with neurodevelopmental problems in small children as well.
“Parents shouldn’t have to worry that a dangerous chemical might be lurking in the fruits and veggies they feed their kids,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist at NRDC. “The health of our children must come before chemical corporations.”
In commercial agriculture, farmers have used chlorpyrifos since the 1960s. While residential use of the insect killer was banned 17 years ago, it is still used on staple food crops such as apples, strawberries, corn and wheat.
Dow AgroSciences, which sells chlorpyrifos under the name Lorsban, has repeatedly argued against a federal ban and scientific findings critical of its safety.
Pruitt, who has a history of going against EPA findings, said last week that his order will provide regulatory certainty to thousands of American farms that rely on the chlorpyrifos.
Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called the order a “welcomed decision.”
“It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this national and the world,” Kunickis, whose LinkedIn profile shows employment with the USDA since 2010, said.
Policymakers look for answers
Members of Congress have been among those questioning Pruitt’s order on chlorpyrifos.
In a letter sent to the EPA on March 31, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) said he was concerned with the “sudden” decision to reverse a ban on the pesticide and called for “all documents” sent or received by the EPA over the last several months that are related to the agency’s decision-making process.
Carper said that the EPA needs to provide substantial evidence to support the safety of chlorpyrifos now instead of waiting until an ongoing registration review was completed in five years, the agency’s statutory deadline.
“Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide that has been in use since 1965 and was derived using World War II era nerve agency research, has long been of concern to EPA,” Caper wrote.
Four House Democrats — Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado), Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-New York) and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey) — also sent a letter related to the pesticide on Monday to Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), who chairs the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In their letter, the Democratic representatives said that the decision to not ban chlorpyrifos adds to growing concerns that the Trump Administration is failing to properly implement the Food Quality Protection Act.
“Unfortunately, this action seems to be part of an emerging pattern,” they said.