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Activists, AGs file appeal of EPA denial of chlorpyrifos petition

Aerial application of pesticides in a standard practice in the Mississippi Delta.
Aerial application of pesticides in a standard practice in the Mississippi Delta.
Environmental and labor groups claim EPA has reversed its decision on chlorpyrifos safety during change of administrators.

While farmers and industry groups remain euphoric over the installation of a more business-friendly administration at the Environmental Protection Agency, every so often a reality check gets inserted into the mix.

Back on April 5, EPA denied a petition from the Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council to cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos, an insecticide used on a number of commercial crops in the U.S.

Today (June 6) the other shoe dropped as a dozen health, labor and civil rights organizations represented by Earthjustice filed a 44-page administrative appeal to EPA, urging the federal government to ban the insecticide. The attorney generals of seven states also filed an appeal calling for a ban, which must be reviewed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The appeals gave the activists and the attorney generals of California, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington another platform to make claims that chlorpyrifos or Lorsban, as it is commercially known, “has been linked to reduced IQ, loss of working memory and attention deficit disorder in children.”

Earthjustice’s appeal to the EPA was filed on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens, United Farm Workers, Farmworker Association of Florida, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Farmworker Justice, GreenLatinos, National Hispanic Medical Association, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Learning Disabilities Association of America and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

PANNA, NRDC remain involved

The Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council, the organizations filing the original petition to cancel the registrations of chlorpyrifos, are also included in the appeal of the EPA’s April 5 chlorpyrifos ruling.

In terms of pounds applied, chlorpyrifos is the most widely used pesticide in the U.S., according to the EPA’s April 5 ruling. “That makes any decision to retain or remove this pesticide an extremely significant policy choice,” the ruling said.

The filers of the appeal indicated they do not plan to relax their criticisms of the continued registration of the product for agricultural uses in the U.S.

“EPA has repeatedly found chlorpyrifos unsafe, particularly for children, and strengthened that view every time it’s reviewed the science,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. “Based on the science and the law, the only credible thing to do to protect public health is ban this toxic pesticide.”

The situation is complicated in that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had issued an order requiring EPA to either complete its review of its reregistration decision on chlorpyrifos or grant or deny the petition by March 31.

‘Issue is unresolved”

So the EPA refused to ban chlorpyrifos, arguing the science is unresolved and that it would study the issue until 2022, the original date established by Congress for the completion of the pesticide reregistration process.

PANNA and the Natural Resources Defense Council noted EPA had “reversed its own proposal to ban all food crop uses of chlorpyrifos. The agency took this position even though EPA found chlorpyrifos unsafe in drinking water in 2014 and 2015. And even though in late 2016 concluded there is no safe level of chlorpyrifos exposure in food or drinking water, and that workers are exposed to unsafe levels of the pesticide even with maximum protective controls. In 2016, the EPA also confirmed chlorpyrifos is found at unsafe levels in the air at schools and homes adjacent to agricultural areas.”

Under the new administration, the agency dropped its proposal to cancel the registrations, citing uncertainty about the data and promising to continue studies of the issues with a goal of completing those in 2022.

The latest appeal comes two months after Earthjustice asked federal appeals court judges to order the EPA to decide now whether to ban the pesticide. That court ruling is pending. The new appeal challenges, on its merits, the EPA’s March action that allows chlorpyrifos to continue to be used on food crops.

Request ruling sooner than later

Since Administrator Pruitt has said he wants to delay the pesticide ban, the groups have also filed a court case that asks the Ninth Circuit Court to decide the issues presented in the administrative appeal because of the likelihood of a delayed resolution by the EPA.

In addition, Earthjustice said it, along with Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, UFW, PAN North America, and NRDC, submitted nearly 150,000 comments to the EPA asking for a ban.

The activists noted chlorpyrifos was banned from residential use 17 years ago. “Yet this organophosphate is still widely used on strawberries, apples, citrus, and more. It is linked to long-term damage to children’s developing brains and nervous systems at low levels of exposure during pregnancy and early childhood.”

To read more about EPA’s position on chlorpyrifos, visit

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