(Beyond Pesticides, April 24, 2017) After contributing $1 million to Donald Trump’s presidential festivities, pesticide maker Dow Chemical Co. is asking the Administration to set aside previous findings of federal scientists across multiple agencies that confirm the risks that organophosphate pesticides pose to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species. This comes after the Administration abandoned plans to restrict the brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos, also an organophosphate pesticide created by Dow, despite mountains of evidence that show the chemical’s neurotoxic impacts on children’s brains.
In letters sent to government officials, lawyers for Dow urge Administration officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set aside “biological evaluations” that detail how three highly toxic organophosphate insecticides –chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon– harm nearly all 1,800 threatened and endangered animals and plants, claiming the process to be “fundamentally flawed.”
Federal agencies tasked with protecting endangered species –EPA, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture– have worked for years to identify the risks posed by pesticides to threatened and endangered species under to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under Section 7 of ESA, states that any agency action must find that it “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat.” In January 2017, federal scientists determined that chlorpyrifos and malathion are likely to harm 97 percent of endangered species nationwide, while diazinon was found to harm 79 percent of protected species. More than 10,000 pages indicate the three pesticides under review pose a risk to nearly every endangered species studied. According to EPA’s release on the subject back in January, this is the “first-ever draft biological evaluations analyzing the nation-wide effects” of these registered chemicals on endangered species after decades of widespread use. The agencies were close to finalizing their assessments, which were expected to result in new restrictions on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used. The assessments are required as part of a legal settlement in 2014 with the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation organizations. In accordance with the legal settlement, these biological opinions must be finalized by December 2017.
Last month, in an about-face, EPA’s new Administrator Scott Pruitt decided to side with industry and reject the conclusions of EPA scientists and the independent scientific literature. This decision reversed a tentative decision from 2015 to revoke chlorpyrifos food tolerances that would have essentially banned the chemical in agriculture. Chlorpyrifos, an extremely potent neurotoxicant, was found by agency scientists to lead to mental development delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorders in children exposed to high levels of the chemical. However, Mr. Pruitt’s press release stated the “…need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment.”
Chlorpyrifos, malathion, and diazinon organophosphates derived from World War II nerve poisons are a common class of pesticides. This class of pesticides affect neurodevelopment, weaken the immune system, and impair respiratory function, among other severe health risks. Organophosphates are a widely used in agricultural, with millions of pounds applied yearly across the country, and are acutely toxic to bees, birds, mammals, aquatic organisms and certain species of algae at low doses. Once present in the environment, organisms that come into contact with the pesticides will have difficulty performing basic survival and reproductive functions.
Because of the neurological effects on children, on June 8, 2000, EPA announced an agreement it had reached with Dow AgroSciences that phased out most home uses of the commonly used insecticide. With the exception of uses on tomatoes, agricultural uses were allowed to continue under the decision
After years of refusing to comply with mandates to protect endangered species from the impacts of pesticides, EPA began consultations with other federal agencies following a two-year review by the National Academy of Sciences. A stakeholder-engagement process that allowed in-depth involvement by the public and industry and provided opportunities for comment on the draft assessments. Industry provided extensive comments, many of which were ultimately rejected by the federal government because they were simply incompatible with the legal requirements of the Endangered Species Act. While all three chemical’ impacts are ubiquitous, and are currently allowed for use in agriculture, chlorpyrifos and malathion’s impact is broader due to their use as mosquito adulticides. EPA’s analysis required consideration of both direct impacts through dietary exposure as well as indirect impacts through prey. Adverse effects w ere far reaching, ranging from aquatic mammals like sea lions, to cave-dwelling spiders, and numerous listed birds.
Ultimately, the widespread adoption of organic management is necessary to protect consumers and the environment in the long-term. Beyond Pesticides has long sought a broad-scale marketplace transition to organic practices that, as a default, prohibits the use of toxic synthetic pesticides by law (unless subject to rigorous health and environmental standards and recommended by the National Organic Standards Board) and requires a systems-based approach that is protective of health and the environment. This approach never allows the use of highly toxic synthetic pesticides, such as the toxic organophosphates, and advances a viable, scalable path forward for growing food. Find out more about why organic is the right path forward for the future of farming by going to Beyond Pesticides’ organic agriculture webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.