By Sonya Lunder, Sierra Club
In a huge victory for public health, the courts have ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. This is a clear loss to the Trump administration in their ongoing effort to roll back safeguards for pesticides and toxic chemicals.
Chlorpyrifos is a highly toxic insecticide that is commonly sprayed on food crops. It is a nerve toxin, meaning workers have routinely been poisoned in farm accidents. Children are sensitive to even tiny doses; studies of American children exposed to the chemical in the early 2000s while living in urban housing and farming communities find even small exposures during pregnancy and childhood can cause lasting damages to children’s brains and nervous systems. In 2007, environmental groups petitioned the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos based on evidence it harmed kids’ and workers’ health.
After years of deliberation, the EPA determined that chlorpyrifos poses a significant risk to farmworkers, people living near agricultural fields, and that people outside of agricultural regions were affected by chlorpyrifos residues on produce — particularly young children.
The EPA was just days away from finalizing a full ban on chlorpyrifos when President Trump was inaugurated and appointed one of the most dangerous EPA administrators in American history — Scott Pruitt. After barely a month in his job, then-Administrator Pruitt overturned the multi-year effort. He cancelled the ban and sent the Agency back to the drawing board, giving regulators five years complete a new safety assessment.
An estimated 6 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are applied to American farmland each year, including nuts, fruit, vegetables. Not counting on federal action, the state of Hawaii banned chlorpyrifos in June 2018, and California listed the chemical as toxic to pregnant women and children, paving the way for additional restrictions. At the same time, several bills in Congress would ban chlorpyrifos and other related insecticides completely.
And last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a petition by Earthjustice on behalf of a coalition of farmworker protection and environmental organizations, and ordered the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days.
“The Court ended EPA’s shameful actions that have exposed children and farmworkers to this poison for decades,” said Earthjustice attorney Marisa Ordonia. “Finally, our fields, fruits, and vegetables will be chlorpyrifos-free.” This Appeals Court ruling is a huge win for the environmental movement and an important step towards protecting children and consumers all across the country.