Environmentalists are suing the Environmental Protection Agency for reversing its position on a pesticide the Obama administration had recommended banning because of its links to autism and childhood brain defects.
On Wednesday, the Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a complaint against the EPA, led by Trump appointee Scott Pruitt, asking a federal court to make the agency follow through on an Obama-era recommendation to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage in children. The Trump administration reversed that recommendation last week — even though the EPA concluded in November that the pesticide is associated with autism, lowered intelligence, developmental delays, and attention deficit disorders.
“The Trump administration is not above the law — and we will not let them put our kids at risk,” Erik Olson, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney and health program director, said in a statement. “The science is clear that this chemical is dangerous, yet Administrator Pruitt is ignoring findings from EPA’s own experts and brushing off the courts to keep it on the market.”
Chlorpyrifos is a type of insecticide currently used on a variety of crops, turf, golf courses, and in greenhouses. In its November report, the EPA said that children are exposed to dangerous levels of the pesticide, thanks to its residue on fruits and vegetables. Pregnant mothers who have had even low exposure to the pesticide can end up giving birth to children with long-term and potentially irreversible brain abnormalities, researchers have discovered.
Chemical companies signed an accord with the EPA to stop manufacturing it for residential use in 2000, but the Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition in 2007 to ban the pesticide. After evaluating the pesticide’s dangers multiple times — including in its November report — the Obama administration proposed banning using the pesticide on food.
The EPA was required to respond to the petition and make a final decision on the ban by March 31, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s statement. But just a few days before that deadline, Pruitt announced that the agency would roll back the Obama recommendation.
“By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making,” Pruitt said in a statement.
According to his statement, the EPA now doubts its previous findings about the pesticide’s dangers. The statement also notes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture also has concerns about the EPA’s research.
The Natural Resources Defense Council argues the EPA did not offer any new evidence to show chlorpyrifos can be used safely.
“[The council] stands with medical professionals, scientific experts, farmworkers, and agricultural communities across the country to seek court action in the face of a Trump administration unwilling to put children’s health over corporate profits,” the council’s statement reads.
The EPA said it will wait to re-evaluate the pesticide’s safety in 2022. But if the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sides with the environmentalists, the agency might have to take action sooner.
The complaint was filed the same day that University of Iowa and U.S. Geological Survey scientists announced that, for the first time, they’d found a common type of pesticide in American drinking water.