(Beyond Pesticides, June 8, 2017) On Monday, numerous organizations filed an administrative appeal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seeking to reverse Scott Pruitt’s order to continue allowing the toxic organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos in agriculture, and revoke all tolerances (allowed food residues) of the chemical. On the same day, Attorneys General (AGs) from seven states announced legal objections to Scott Pruitt’s order, also calling for a reversal of the decision and a revocation of all tolerances. Allowing the continued use of chlorpyrifos runs counter to findings of independent science and EPA’s own scientists, which establish unacceptable risks to humans and the environment.
The administrative appeal, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of 12 environmental, labor, and civil rights organizations, resulted from the decision by EPA to allow the use of chlorpyrifos while it studies the safety of the chemical. The seven AGs, in their filing, are charging that EPA wrongfully approved the continued use of chlorpyrifos in agriculture without first gathering and assessing the full safety data, as required by the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Many environmental groups spoke out in favor of these filings. “There’s a good reason this dangerous toxin has been banned from indoor use for more than a decade and the EPA’s own scientists recommended ending its use on food,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “There is no question that this pesticide causes serious harm to people and wildlife so there should be no question that it should be banned, period.”
In March 2017, Scott Pruitt and the EPA reversed a tentative decision from 2015 to revoke food residue tolerances of chlorpyrifos due to the chemical’s neurotoxic impacts. This would have effectively banned chlorpyrifos from agriculture. This decision stemmed from a petition and lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) ten years ago, calling for EPA to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances and cancel all registrations. A Federal Appeals court mandated that EPA take final action by March 31, 2017. Mr. Pruitt’s decision left the door open for continued neurotoxic dangers for humans, especially children, who have been shown to be especially vulnerable to chlorpyrifos.
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. The scientific evidence of neurotoxic dangers associated with chlorpyrifos exposure is extensive and consistent. A 2016 study found lower IQ in children born to mothers who, during their pregnancy, were living in close proximity to chemical-intensive agricultural lands where OPs were used. A 2015 study found that a decrease in lung function in children was linked to exposure to organophosphates early in life. Another 2015 study found that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos is linked to tremors in children. Although organophosphate use was on the decline in the U.S., Mr. Pruitt’s 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 are “not sufficiently health protective.”
Another assessment released by EPA in January 2017 found that chlorpyrifos likely has detrimental effects on 97 percent of all species listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). OPs are acutely toxic to bees, birds, mammals, aquatic organisms and certain species of algae at low doses. OPs method of entry into the environment can vary from pesticide drift, volatilization, and runoff from soil erosion. Once present in the environment, organisms that come into contact with the pesticide will have difficulty performing basic survival and reproductive functions.
Beyond Pesticides has long sought a broad-scale marketplace transition that disallows the use of toxic synthetic pesticides by law and encourages a systems-based approach that is protective of health and the environment. That is why organic, with its requirement of a detailed organic system plan, and methods to foster and improve soil health, represent the future of agricultural production in the U.S. and abroad. This approach never allows the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, let alone organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos, and advances a viable, scalable path forward for growing food. For more information on why organic agriculture is the right alternative, see our organic program webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.