FRESNO (CBS/AP) — The Trump Administration on Wednesday denied a petition by environmental groups that sought to ban a common pesticide used on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops, reversing a push by the Obama administration to revoke all uses of the pesticide on food after a government review concluded it could harm children’s brains.
Farming is a big industry across California and across the nation. But it faces an army of small enemies, And many who work in farming use the pesticide chlorpyrifos as ammunition.
Michael Kelly with the Central California Almond Growers Association said, “It’s very important for controlling those small pests that can wreak havoc on the crop.”
In announcing the decision, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said that by not banning chlorpyrifos he is providing “regulatory certainty” to thousands of American farms that rely on the pesticide.
“By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results,” Pruitt said.
Environmental groups pointed to recent studies showing even minuscule amounts of chlorpyrifos, sold by Dow Chemical, can interfere with brain development of fetuses, infants and children. They accused Pruitt of putting the interests of big business over people.
“EPA’s refusal to ban this dangerous pesticide is unconscionable,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. “EPA is defying its legal obligation to protect children from unsafe pesticides.”
Goldman said her group will seek a court to order to countermand Pruitt’s decision.
The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and experts say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide.
Kelly, however, said, “…I’ve found it to be not only very effective, but very safe.”
The chemical, also known as lorsban, has been used on dozens of crops including corn, strawberries and citrus.
But the EPA’s scientists under the Obama administration found that the chemical could interfere with children’s brain development.
James Jones, former EPA Assistant Administrator, said, “Reduced IQ, lower working memory scores, increased ADHD, those are the kinds of things, they were small effects but they were definitely meaningful.”
U.S. farms use more than 6 million pounds of the chemical each year — about 25 percent of it in California.
The EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos in 2000 and placed “no-spray” buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.
But environmental and public health groups said those proposals don’t go far enough and filed a federal lawsuit seeking a national ban on the pesticide.
In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed revoking the pesticide’s use in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America.
The EPA said then that its analysis didn’t suggest risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food. But when those exposures are combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, “EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act safety standard,” it said.
Now under new management, the EPA said Wednesday that the previous administration’s proposal relied on a study “whose application is novel and uncertain, to reach its conclusions.”
The new leadership of the EPA says “…reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance” on the earlier studies.
The EPA says farmers can continue to use the pesticide while more research is done.
The maker of the pesticide praised Pruitt’s decision.
“Dow AgroSciences remains confident that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety,” the company said in a statement.
But critics say effective substitute pesticides are readily available.
Jones said, “It would not be that difficult to take this off the plate of parents and it is a bit confounding to me as to why we’re not as a government doing that.”
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