By Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Natural Resources Defense Council
Next week the Trump Administration will show us, once again, how far it will go to protect polluters at the expense of children’s health.
On March 26, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will hear, for a second time, arguments over a proposed ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide toxic to children’s developing brains. Lawyers for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will once again make the case for keeping the chemical on the market. And NRDC, Pesticide Action Network (PAN), and public health, farmworker, and environmental advocates, represented by Earthjustice, will be arguing the court should uphold a ruling it made last August that ordered the chemical banned from use on U.S. food crops because of the risk it poses to kids.
This hearing will be the latest development in long-running legal battle over chlorpyrifos that began when NRDC and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) petitioned EPA to ban the chemical in 2007. While the agency was close to finally doing so at the end of 2016, the Trump administration (which has close ties to Dow Chemical, the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos) reversed course just a few short months after taking office. Next week’s hearing will come just days before the two-year anniversary of their refusal to ban it.
Chlorpyrifos was banned from use in the home (in products like roach sprays) in 2000 but remains widely used in agriculture, particularly on fruits and vegetables—including kid favorites like apples, oranges and strawberries. This is despite an increasingly overwhelming body of science—including from the EPA itself—that shows that exposure to low levels of chlorpyrifos 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.
Children’s health nearly prevailed last August, when the 9th Circuit gave the EPA 60 days to ban the pesticide, concluding that:
- The Court could, and needed to, step in because EPA was evading its responsibility to protect children from exposure to a dangerous pesticide;
- EPA could not delay action to protect children any longer; and
- Since EPA has not shown that chlorpyrifos can be used safely on food, it must enact the ban proposed in 2016.
But EPA fought back, asking the court for a rehearing of this decision and arguing the agency should be allowed to delay action on chlorpyrifos until 2022.
As the legal back and forth continues, communities and children’s health advocates are looking to states to provide the protections denied by the Trump administration. Hawaii became the first state to ban chlorpyrifos last year, and state legislatures in California, New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Oregon have the potential to follow in their footsteps.
In the meantime, chlorpyrifos continues to poison farmworkers and agricultural communities, and contaminate the food supply across the country. Parents should not have to worry their children’s development is at risk because of where they live or what they eat. Since NRDC and PAN filed the petition to ban chlorpyrifos 12 years ago, the science has gotten stronger and a generation’s future has been put at risk. NRDC will keep fighting alongside communities and public health experts to protect kids over industry profits.