(Beyond Pesticides, June 30, 2017) Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), met privately with Dow Chemical’s CEO several weeks before reversing EPA’s tentative decision to ban chlorpyrifos, according to records recently obtained by the Associated Press (AP). A copy of Mr. Pruitt’s schedule reveals he met with Dow CEO, Andrew Liveris, on March 9 at a Houston hotel and “twenty days later Pruitt announced his decision to deny a petition to ban Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food.”
At a hearing this week, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) pressed Mr. Pruitt to name a peer-reviewed study that indicates that chlorpyrifos is safe. Mr. Pruitt answered by saying that “he had relied on ‘interagency dialogue’ with USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] before denying the petition to ban the chemical.” In a congressional hearing earlier this month regarding chlorpyrifos’ safety, Mr. Pruitt stated that his decision was founded on “meaningful data and meaningful science.” However, AP followed up with EPA to provide details on this science, and Mr. Pruitt’s office replied with quotes from trade groups and USDA, but failed to provide any scientific studies on the chemical’s safety.
In March 2017, in an about-face, EPA’s 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.” Mr. Pruitt’s decision leaves the door open for continued neurotoxic dangers for humans, especially children, who have been shown to be especially vulnerable to chlorpyrifos.
The path is clear for EPA to revoke tolerances for chlorpyrifos and ultimately ban this toxic pesticide. Chlorpyrifos is part of the organophosphate (OPs) class of pesticides, which were used in World War II as nerve agents. As potent neurotoxicants, organophosphates are extremely harmful to the nervous system, given that they are cholinesterase inhibitors and bind irreversibly to the active site of an enzyme essential for normal nerve impulse transmission. Epidemiological data also points to subpopulations that are disproportionately affected by chlorpyrifos exposures. Low-income African-American and Latino families, including farmworker families, continue to suffer the most, and this disproportionate impact creates an environmental justice issue that the agency has ignored. Although organophosphate use has been on the decline in the U.S., EPA has allowed the continued registration of many of these products, and Mr. Pruitt’s recent decision sets a precedent for continued allowance.
EPA’s own assessment, which incorporates recommendations from a 2016 Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), finds that children exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos have mental development delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorders. The SAP agreed with EPA that there is an association between chlorpyrifos prenatal exposure and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. After the 2016 review, EPA concluded that there is “sufficient evidence” that there are neurodevelopmental effects even at levels below the agency’s level of concern, and that current approaches for evaluating chlorpyrifos’ neurological impact is “not sufficiently health protective.”
Organophosphates like chlorpyrifos are a widely used agricultural pesticides, 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. A 2014 study by the U.S. Geological Service determined that an estimated six million pounds of chlorpyrifos is sprayed for agricultural use. In early 2016, a study found that honey bees experience a learning and memory deficit after ingesting small doses of the chlorpyrifos, potentially threatening their success and survival. In January 2017, EPA released its final Biological Evaluations of Three Chemicals’ Impacts on Endangered Species, which found that chlorpyrifos likely has detrimental effect on 97 percent of all species listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Ultimately, the widespread adoption of organic management is necessary to protect consumers and the environment in the long-term from pesticides like chlorpyrifos. 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 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 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.
Sources: Associated Press
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.