The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it will allow chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide that’s been linked to learning disabilities in children, to remain on the market for agricultural use.
The decision is a major win for the chemical and agricultural industries and a blow to environmental groups that have fought for years to force the agency to ban the chemical. In its final order, the EPA said petitioners’ claims that chlorpyrifos poses a risk to brain development “are not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence.”
An EPA spokesman said the agency will continue to assess the safety of chlorpyrifos through 2022.
Chlorpyrifos, also known by its trade name Lorsban, is used in nearly 100 countries on more than 50 different crops, including corn, soybeans, cranberries and broccoli. It was almost entirely banned for at-home use in the U.S. in 2000. And in November 2015, the Obama administration proposed permanently banning it on food crops, citing potential risks to human health.
But former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course in March 2017, shortly after the Trump administration took office, signing an order to allow for its continued use. The move defied the recommendation of EPA scientists, and Pruitt offered little explanation other than to say the Obama administration relied largely on studies “whose application is novel and uncertain, to reach its conclusions.”
Dow Chemical Co., which patented chlorpyrifos in the 1960s and was until recently the largest manufacturer of the pesticide, contributed $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee. The chemical is now made by Corteva Agriscience, a company that spun off from DowDuPont last month. (DowDuPont, which formed in 2015 following a merger of Dow and DuPont, split earlier this year.)
Studies have shown that children exposed to organophosphate pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, have an increased risk for abnormal neurodevelopment, including persistent loss of intelligence and behavior problems. Even low-dose exposure to organophosphates, particularly in the womb, has been found to harm brain development, leading to higher risk of disorders like autism. Residue of the chemical repeatedly turns up in nectarines, peaches, cucumbers and other crops.
In a joint letter to Pruitt in June, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, said failing to remove chlorpyrifos from the market “puts all children at risk.”
Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group that is representing a dozen organizations in an ongoing lawsuit against the EPA, said in a statement Thursday that it is “a tragedy that this administration sides with corporations instead of children’s health.”
“By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children’s brains,” she said.
The plaintiffs have vowed to continue their legal fight.
Last year, Hawaii became the first state to ban the neurotoxin. California, Maryland, New York and New Jersey have also considered statewide chlorpyrifos bans.
CORRECTION: This story previously stated that Dow Chemical Co. manufactures chlorpyrifos. It is now made by Corteva Agriscience, a company that spun off from DowDuPont in June.