The Trump administration’s stubborn refusal to clean up its broken pesticide-regulatory system is now on trial in the federal courts, and workers’ advocates hope to push the EPA to follow through on a long-standing plan to ban a major pesticide that has been linked to brain damage.
Last March, as one of Scott Pruitt’s first actions as EPA chief, the notoriously anti-regulatory regulator (who has since been ousted) unraveled a hard-fought measure to ban crop usage of chlorpyrifos, available on the market from Dow Chemical under the brand name Lorsban, one of the most dangerous pesticides in US agriculture. The agency claimed the scientific evidence of health risks had been “inconsistent.” But a meeting Pruitt held shortly before the decision was issued was perfectly consistent with Pruitt’s record as a corporate lawyer for polluters: He spoke with Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris briefly just a few days before ending the ban, suggesting that the agency’s calculations were more political than scientific.
Labor and public-health advocates are now challenging the unbanning of Lorsban in federal court. In July a coalition of environmental-justice groups, represented by EarthJustice, made final arguments accusing the EPA of ignoring massive scientific evidence linking prenatal and childhood exposure to chlorpyrifos—one of the most common substances used to kill pests on industrial crops—to severe neurodevelopmental impacts like low birthweight, reduced IQ scores, and damaged memory.
Following Pruitt’s decision, an opposition letter issued by the American Academy of Pediatricians warned that failure to restrict chlorpyrifos contradicted a “wealth of science demonstrating the detrimental effects of chlorpyrifos exposure to developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women.” The wealth of the chemical industry spoke louder, apparently: Dow Chemical sunk more than $13 million into anti-regulatory lobbying in Washington the same year that Trump was elected.
Shortly after the election, the EPA issued its own risk assessment on the pesticide, which affirmed past studies showing that harmful exposures are ubiquitous in and around farm fields. All food and water exposures were deemed generally unsafe—with toddlers exposed at about 140 times the safe level. Private household use of chlorpyrifos was banned about 20 years ago, but it continues to be widely used in industrial agriculture today.