Sunday, 7 Aug 2022

E.P.A. to Block Pesticide Tied to Neurological Harm in Children

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is banning a common pesticide, widely used since 1965 on fruits and vegetables, from use on food crops because it has been linked to neurological damage in children.

The Environmental Protection Agency said this week it would publish a regulation to block the use of chlorpyrifos on food. One of the most widely used pesticides, chlorpyrifos is commonly applied to corn, soybeans, apples, broccoli, asparagus and other produce.

The new rule, which will take effect in six months, follows an order in April by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that directed the E.P.A. to halt the agricultural use of the chemical unless it could demonstrate its safety.

Labor and environmental advocacy groups estimate that the decision will eliminate more than 90 percent of chlorpyrifos use in the country.

In an unusual move, the new chlorpyrifos policy will not be put in place via the standard regulatory process, under which the E.P.A. first publishes a draft rule, then takes public comment before publishing a final rule. Rather, in compliance with the court order, which noted that the science linking chlorpyrifos to brain damage is over a decade old, the rule will be published in final form, without a draft or public comment period.

The announcement is the latest in a series of moves by the Biden administration to re-create, strengthen or reinstate more than 100 environmental regulations.

“Today E.P.A. is taking an overdue step to protect public health,” the agency’s head, Michael S. Regan, said. “Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide.”

Environmental organizations, health advocates and groups representing farm workers have long sought to stop the use of the chlorpyrifos, after studies showed exposure to the pesticide was linked to lower birth weights, reduced I.Q.s and other developmental problems in children. Studies traced some of those health effects to prenatal exposure to the pesticide.

Several of those groups last year petitioned the E.P.A. to reverse a Trump-era decision not to ban the use of the chemical.

“Pesticides like chlorpyrifos haunt farm workers, especially parents and pregnant women,” said Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns for United Farm Workers of America, one of the groups on the petition. “They don’t hug their kids until they change clothes, they wash their laundry separately. When they miscarry, or when their children have birth defects or learning disabilities, they wonder if their work exposures harmed their children.”

“It took far too long, but children will no longer be eating food tainted with a pesticide that causes intellectual learning disabilities,” said Patti Goldman, an attorney at Earthjustice, another group that signed on to the federal petition. “Chlorpyrifos will finally be out of our fruits and vegetables.”

Several states — including California, Hawaii, New York and Maryland — have banned or restricted the use of chlorpyrifos, and the attorneys general of those states, as well as those of Washington, Vermont and Massachusetts, joined the petition.

The Obama administration began the process of revoking all uses of the pesticide in 2015 but, in 2020, the Trump administration ignored the recommendations of E.P.A. scientists and kept chlorpyrifos on the market. That set off a wave of legal challenges.

Those challenges concluded with the court order in April, which gave the E.P.A. a deadline of Aug. 20 to either demonstrate that chlorpyrifos does not harm children or to legally end its use on food crops.

“It is very unusual,” Michal Freedhoff, the E.P.A. assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, said of the court’s directive. “It speaks to the impatience and the frustration that the courts and environmental groups and farmworkers have with the agency.”

“The court basically said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Ms. Freedhoff said. “Either tell us that it’s safe, and show your work, and if you can’t, then revoke all tolerances.”

The decision is expected to lead to criticism by the chemical industry and farm lobby, which worked closely with the Trump administration ahead of its decision to keep chlorpyrifos in use.

“The availability of pesticides, like chlorpyrifos, is relied upon by farmers to control a variety of insect pests and by public health officials who work to control deadly and debilitating pests like mosquitoes,” said Chris Novak, the chief executive of CropLife America, an agricultural chemical company, at the time of Trump decision.

Pesticide products that include chlorpyrifos include the brands Hatchet, manufactured by Dow AgroSciences; Eraser, manufactured by Integrated Agribusiness Professionals; and Govern, manufactured by Tenkoz.

Chlorpyrifos will still be permitted for nonfood uses such as on golf courses, turf, utility poles and fence posts as well as in cockroach bait and ant treatments.

In a withering attack on the Trump administration E.P.A., Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Ninth Circuit wrote on behalf of the court that, rather than ban the pesticide or impose restrictions, the agency “sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties.”

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