The Environmental Protection Agency is extending the use of the pesticide Chlorpyrifos for some purposes. Hawaii, New York and California ban the use of the pesticide.

One of the most widely-used pesticides in agriculture, chlorpyrifos is used on crops from corn to soybeans to fresh produce like apples. Non-agricultural uses include golf courses.  

The EPA’s proposed interim decision and associated risk assessments are open to public comment for 60 days.

But chlorpyrifos also has a reputation as a “toxic, braining-damaging pesticide” and the EPA’s decision comes as a major disappointment for the Center for Food Safety (CFS). The EPA has come full circle since 2015 when the Obama Administration was ready to withdraw chlorpyrifos from the market.

“True to form, the Trump Administration has placed corporate dollars over public health. If allowed to stand, its proposal to continue registering this neurotoxic insecticide would cause irreparable harm to farmworkers and future generations,”said George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety. “Everything possible must be done to ensure the Biden Administration reverses this proposal and once and for all bans this pesticide.”

 The EPA’s interim “decision” reportedly leaves much undecided, including safety thresholds for chlorpyrifos exposure and possible mitigation measures, which the agency is currently negotiating with chlorpyrifos manufacturers.  

Following the EPA’s proposed ban on chlorpyrifos in 2015, Dow AgroSciences, the largest chlorpyrifos manufacturer, moved aggressively to get the ban proposal lifted by the Trump Administration, which campaigned on regulatory cutbacks. As a result, in 2017, the Trump EPA reversed the proposed ban. Faced with another court-mandated deadline, the Trump EPA again refused to ban chlorpyrifos in 2019.

 “The evidence is clear. Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin, and it damages the developing brains of children. This unconscionable decision must be reversed, to save still another generation of children from the entirely avoidable learning disabilities caused by this brain-damaging pesticide,” said Bill Freese, a science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

 The CFS claims long-term studies have demonstrated conclusively that children who are exposed to chlorpyrifos while in the womb suffer from higher rates of a broad range of developmental disorders, including reduced IQ and memory deficits, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  A ban on the pesticide is widely supported by the medical science community.

 The EPA is said to have long been aware of the pesticide’s toxicity. While most residential uses of chlorpyrifos were banned nearly two decades ago, the agency permitted its continued use in agriculture. According to CFS,  that’s created a double-standard in which rural kids and farmworkers are left unprotected. People are exposed to chlorpyrifos in food and water, but also through inhalation of spray drift and vapor. 

 The CFS drafted and then successfully lobbied for the passage of the first in the nation bill that prohibits chlorpyrifos use in Hawaii. Before the ban, agrichemical giants Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta extensively used chlorpyrifos in Hawaii on genetically engineered seed corn.

According to a Harvard University publication on the subject, more than 34,000 pesticides that are derived from about 600 basic chemicals are registered by the EPA for use in this country.  In addition, 85,000 more chemicals are regulated separately under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), which is criticized by many NGOs and academic researchers for being too lax. The EPA used FIFRA to ban or severely restrict the use of 64 active pesticide ingredients between 1972 and 2007, while only five chemicals have been banned under the TSCA since its inception in 1976.

The CFS and the Center for Biological Diversity are also upset with EPA’s  “approval of the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor.”  The two nonprofit groups said they are opposing the request by the EPA and Dow Chemical for approval of sulfoxaflor’s use across a wide range of landscapes.

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