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The Journal Gazette

Friday, August 10, 2018 1:00 am

Court orders EPA ban of disputed pesticide

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos, which former administrator Scott Pruitt had refused to do last year, despite mounting concerns about its risks to human health.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said federal law requires that the EPA ban the use of a pesticide on food if it finds any harm from exposure to it, saying that there was “no justification” for Pruitt's decision to allow farmers to continue to use chlorpyrifos “in the fact of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children.”

Judge Jed Rakoff, writing for the majority, said that over the past two decades, scientists at the agency had documented the likely adverse effects of chlorpyrifos on the mental and physical development of infants and children. But he said the EPA had “stalled” for years in banning the chemical and accused the agency of an “utter failure” in responding to objections over Pruitt's denial last year.

“The time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion,” wrote Rakoff, who gave the EPA 60 days to comply with the order.

Environmental advocates swiftly praised the decision as a major – and overdue – victory for public health.

“This court decision not only protects the health of children and farmworkers, it also affirms EPA's duty to actually protect public health,” Kristin Schafer said in a statement. Schafer is executive director of the Pesticide Action Network North America, which was a party to the case alongside other labor, environmental and health groups. “Under this administration, apparently, it takes judges to force our public agencies to stand up to corporate interests and do their jobs.”

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said Thursday the agency is reviewing the decision.

The chemical compound chlorpyrifos, also known as Lorsban, has been used by farmers for more than a half century to kill pests on a broad range of crops. The EPA long ago banned its spraying indoors to combat household bugs, but only in recent years did the agency seek to ban its use in agriculture, after mounting scientific evidence that prenatal exposure can pose risks to fetal brain and nervous system development.

Under President Barack Obama, the EPA in 2015 proposed revoking all uses of chlorpyrifos on food. That move came in response to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America. A federal judge had given the EPA until late March 2017 to decide whether to finalize its ban of the pesticide.

Facing that time crunch, Pruitt decided to scrap the proposed ban.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said then. His statement argued that the “public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal” – specifically, he noted that the Agriculture Department had raised concerns about the methodology EPA scientists had used.

The chemical industry also has resisted a ban on chlorpyrifos. Dow AgroSciences, which manufactures the pesticide, said in late 2016 that the Obama administration's assessment of its safety “lacks scientific rigor.” The company added it “remains confident that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products, as directed, offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety.”