Six state prosecutors are joining litigation to ban the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos from being used on American-grown fruits and vegetables.
The attorney generals for the states of New York, Maryland, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., all Democrats, filed a motion to intervene in a case first filed by environmental and social justice advocacy groups early last month.
The lawsuit is a delayed response to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision not to add chlorpyrifos to a list of banned substances.
Pruitt’s way of backtracking on earlier EPA promises was framed as a sort of “regulatory certainty.” According to Pruitt and some scientists, the links posited between chlorpyrifos and neurological damage in children are tenuous at best.
“By working 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 in March.
Some scientists working for the EPA and Food and Drug Administration agree with Pruitt’s remarks – testing does suggest that chlorpyrifos isn’t necessarily toxic when used at levels approved by the federal government.
The push by advocacy groups, now supported by half a dozen state attorneys general, comes in response to a concerted effort by Pruitt and the Trump administration to weaken environmental protections and regulations.
“It is the EPA’s responsibility to protect Americans from unsafe chlorpyrifos residues on food because of the potential neurodevelopmental and other adverse health effects caused by exposure,” wrote the prosecutors in a joint filing. “Citizens of the proposed state intervenors consume foods grown throughout the United States and the world that contain chlorpyrifos residues.”
Reuters reports that the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest efforts to save the substance from restriction contravene an earlier finding that chlorpyrifos doesn’t meet the safety standards of the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The battle being waged by activists against the pesticide has been ongoing since 2007.
Even Obama-era officials had expressed doubts on whether banning the substance would make any difference or favorably impact American health.
“I agree very much with the scientific advisory panel,” said Dr. William Banner of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Speaking of the studies most commonly used in anti-chlorpyrifos statements, he said “that they did not show any causal link. What they showed was an association.”
Nevertheless, after nine years posing arguments in court, the EPA was forced to make a decision in 2015. Judicial reports noted the difficulty of being able to “conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure” to chlorpyrifos was safe.
While the EPA drafted two proposals to ban the substance, neither culminated in the issuance of a final, determining rule.
Pruitt’s March decision marked a major reversal for the Environmental Protection Agency, which had been following suit with the findings of the courts.