Court Rules EPA Must Ban the Dangerous Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

by Maggie Tauranac

Published: 8/10/18, Last updated: 5/23/19

In a win for food, public health and environmental advocates, this week a federal appeals court ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw approval for the use of chlorpyrifos, a dangerous and controversial pesticide. Citing studies that show chlorpyrifos is harmful to children’s brains, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the EPA’s decision in 2017 to allow the use of chlorpyrifos is unjustified. This is the next and most auspicious example of a turning tide toward regulating chlorpyrifos.

The EPA’s own scientists have concluded that the pesticide doesn’t meet safety requirements and the agency was positioned to ban use of the chemical under the Obama administration. However, one of Scott Pruitt’s first formal actions as head of the EPA following his appointment by President Trump was to reject efforts to ban the pesticide. Pruitt has since resigned as head of the EPA. The move ignored widely-accepted science and kowtowed to industry interests at the risk of harming farmworkers, children and communities.

Chlorpyrifos was originally developed as a nerve gas in World War II and has been continually associated with developmental disabilities in children, including lower IQ, attention deficit disorders and other health concerns. Yet, efforts to get the chemical banned have resulted in a 10-year battle with industry. DowDuPont, the pesticide’s manufacturer, has fought against any effort to regulate the pesticide and has lobbied fiercely on its behalf. In June, Hawaii became the first state to mandate a ban on chlorpyrifos after an inspiring display of community and grassroots organizing, as well as repeated pressure placed on local politicians.

The EPA has been given 60 days by the court to comply with the ban. Given DowDuPont’s history of denying scientific evidence in deference to profit, their next step might be to push Trump’s EPA to fight the court’s decision. The EPA could request a delay of the ban, ask the Ninth Circuit to reconsider or appeal it to the Supreme Court. Though given the court’s powerful order, it seems that the effort to “protect our keiki” as they say in Hawaii — protect our children — will likely end in success.

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