By Mae Wu, Natural Resources Defense Council
The legal battle to get chlorpyrifos—a toxic pesticide linked to learning disabilities in children—off the fruits and vegetables we feed our families is heating up this summer.
On Monday, July 9, NRDC and partner groups will deliver their final arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over Administrator Scott Pruitt’s reversal of a ban on the chemical. In this last step before the judges issue a decision in our case, we’ll be making the case that Pruitt’s EPA acted illegally when it took this action.
The arguments—delivered by an Earthjustice attorney on behalf of NRDC and Pesticide Action Network and other plaintiffs—will be streamed live here.
In the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, chlorpyrifos was banned from household use (such as roach spray) nearly two decades ago. EPA’s ban on indoor uses of chlorpyrifos and most other pesticides from that chemical family resulted from a long NRDC fight and litigation against the agency to force action on these toxic chemicals. But chlorpyrifos is still widely used on many U.S. food crops, including children’s favorites like apples, oranges, and strawberries. The U.S. EPA’s own scientific analysis showed that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children from residues found on fruits and vegetables could exceed EPA’s safety levels by 140 times.
Significant science—including from EPA itself—shows that exposure to low levels of the pesticide in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay and ADHD. Farmworkers—many of whom are Latinx—and their children face additional, disproportionate risk because the chemical is used so close to where they live, work, and go to school—resulting in exposures from air, drinking water, and dust in their homes.
NRDC has been fighting for almost thirty years to get chlorpyrifos out of our food supply. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was finally on track to ban it at the end of 2016. Shortly after taking office, however, the Trump administration reversed course—allowing it to continue being sprayed all over numerous U.S. food crops.
A lot of legal back and forth has ensued since then. In short: The agency had been under a court order to respond to NRDC’s 2007 petition to ban the chemical by March 31, 2017. Instead of responding, the agency announced it would wait five more years before making any further safety determination on the use of the chemical, effectively greenlighting its continued use on food crops in the meantime. Our groups challenged the administration’s denial of our petition and are asking the court to require EPA to make a decision on the proposed ban within 60 days. We argue that EPA cannot delay its decision on the ban any further because it has not presented any new scientific research showing that chlorpyrifos could be used safely on food.
EPA’s actions under Pruitt’s leadership are especially troubling given that Dow Chemical—the nation’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos—has close ties to the current administration. The company reportedly donated $1 million for Trump’s inauguration and its CEO previously played a chief advisory role to the president, heading up his now defunct “American Manufacturing Council.”
It’s time to stop playing politics with children’s health. This toxic pesticide has no place in our fields or on the fruits and vegetables we feed our families. We look forward to continuing to make this case in court, and will not stop fighting to keep our kids safe from polluters and their friends in power.