EPA Says It Won’t Ban Indiana-made Pesticide Linked to Brain Abnormalities

July 19, 2019

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will not ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide manufactured in Indiana that has been linked to brain damage and autism in children.

Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by Indianapolis-based Dow Agrisciences LLC. The company is now a part of Corteva Agriscience.

The chemical was originally created as a nerve gas during World War II, but has been used as an agricultural and general pesticide since 1965.

Studies have linked exposure to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy to alterations in brain structure and cognition in children. A study released in April found that exposure to chlorpyrifos and other environmental factors during pregnancy or soon after birth may contribute to the development of autism in children.

The Obama administration announced it would ban chlorpyrifos in 2015, but the ban never took place. Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order denying the ban.

This is a photo of the EPA's main entrance.
The EPA began the process to ban chlorpyrifos in 2015, but the effort was stopped by the Trump administration.

A group of labor and civil organizations objected to the EPA’s chlorpyrifos registration, arguing that the EPA ignored and misrepresented evidence of health risks and overly relied on data provided by companies producing chlorpyrifos. They sued to get the chemical banned.

Last August, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days. The EPA requested a rehearing with all 11 of the court’s judges. After oral arguments in March, the court ordered the EPA to formally respond to objections raised by a group of public interest groups and seven states opposed to chlorpyrifos within 90 days.

On July 18, the EPA denied those objections, saying that the data supporting the group’s objections were “not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence sufficient to meet the Petitioners’ burden under the (Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act), as set forth in EPA’s implementing regulations.”

"This decision stands in the face of clear scientific evidence of the damaging effects of the pesticide, especially on the developing brains of young children."

Groups involved in the original lawsuit say they are not surprised by the current administration’s decision, but say they are disappointed that the EPA is needlessly putting children’s health at risk.

“This decision stands in the face of clear scientific evidence of the damaging effects of the pesticide, especially on the developing brains of young children. Every day we go without a ban, children are eating, drinking, and breathing a pesticide linked to intellectual and learning disabilities” said Stephanie Fedro-Byrom, of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, in a statement. “Children are especially susceptible to toxic effects of chlorpyrifos. They have greater exposure because they put often put their hands in their mouths, and relative to adults, they eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink more water and juice for their weight.”

In 1998, the EPA banned chlorpyrifos for use in households, but allowed its use on food crops and non-residential areas like golf courses, parks and highway medians.

The chemical is widely used in the Midwest, with the highest concentrations of use in Wisconsin, northern Illinois and northwestern and northeastern Indiana.

The EPA banned chlorpyrifos for use in households, but the pesticide is widely used on food crops in the Midwest. USGS

Indiana farmers used nearly 199,690 kg of the pesticide on corn crops and 8,373kg on cotton crops in 2016.

Labor groups say field workers and their families are greatly affected by the use of chlorpyrifos.

Farmworker Justice, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping migrant and seasonal workers improve their health and occupational safety, says farmworkers face greater risks of becoming poisoned or affected by pesticides because they work where the chemicals are at their greatest concentrations and strengths. The group’s president says it will continue its legal efforts to ban chlorpyrifos.

"Farmworker Justice, one of the organizations that is a plaintiff in the litigation, condemned the EPA's decision and plans to continue to seek justice in the courts for farmworkers and their children who are exposed to this highly toxic pesticide that has been banned for household use," Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice told the Indiana Environmental Reporter in a statement.

Environmental advocacy group Earthjustice says the EPA’s decision is only delaying the inevitable – the complete ban of chlorpyrifos across the nation.

“By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children’s brains,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney. “It is a tragedy that this administration sides with corporations instead of children’s health. But this is only a setback.”

The state of Hawaii banned the pesticide in 2018. Lawmakers in California and New York are considering banning chlorpyrifos in their jurisdictions.

This is the second EPA decision in a week that affects products sold by Dow Agrisciences, LLC. The EPA also expanded the use of sulfoxaflor, an insecticide considered “very highly toxic” to bees.

Dow Chemical and its offshoots, including Dow Agrisciences, are closely linked to the Trump administration. According to the Associated Press, Dow Chemical donated $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities. Dow spent millions lobbying the EPA and both chambers of Congress. Dow chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris was also head of the now-defunct American Manufacturing Council.

EPA Says It Won’t Ban Indiana-made Pesticide Linked to Brain Abnormalities