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States Take Action As E.P.A. Stalls on Chlorpyrifos Safety

— May 1, 2019

New York just passed a chlorpyrifos ban years after the E.P.A. said it’d outlaw the pesticide–but a court ruling could force the agency into action.

New York state banned the sale and use of the controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos on Wednesday, taking a step the Environmental Protection Agency has been opposed to implementing on a national scale.

Chlorpyrifos, notes, kills insects on contact by attacking their nervous systems. But the chemical’s potent properties have an impact on people, too. Studies have shown that prenatal exposure to the pesticide can lead to a host of childhood ill effects, some of which can be permanent. Correlations have been made between chlorpyrifos and abnormally low birth rates, low IQs and an assortment of developmental disorders.

Considering the evidence supporting claims against chlorpyrifos, one might imagine that the E.P.A. would advocate its erasure from agriculture. And the agency was set to do just that in 2015, when it was still run by Obama-appointed bureaucrats.

Under the Trump administration, the E.P.A. has abdicated much of its mission. Its last director, Scott Pruitt—a Trump appointee who’d sued the E.P.A. repeatedly during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general—didn’t intervene as the agency walked back its chlorpyrifos ban.

A portrait of an unsmiling Scott Pruitt, wearing a grey suit with a red tie, against a somewhat blurry red and black background.
Scott Pruitt at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference. Under Pruitt’s leadership, the E.P.A. backtracked on many Obama-era initiatives; Pruitt has since been ousted. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0

Now the fight against the pesticide has tricked down to states and the judiciary. KHN notes that Hawaii was the first to outright ban chlorpyrifos in 2018.

New York just passed its own legislation against the pesticide, with similar initiatives pending in California, Oregon and Connecticut.

There’s also a chance that court proceedings could expediate federal processes. According to POLITICO, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco recently ruled that the E.P.A. has but 90 days to take action on demands by environmental health advocates against chlorpyrifos.

With less than three months remaining, the E.P.A. says it’s mulling over its options.

“We are reviewing the court’s order and will be taking final action on the administrative objections before the agency withn 90 days,” EPA spokesman James Hewitt told POLITICO.

The ruling, coupled with New York’s ban and a smattering of proposed legislation, has environmentalists a little hopeful.

“It is hard to be optimistic when EPA has delayed for a dozen years, but based on the record before the agency, the science and the law, we think that the only thing that EPA can do is ban the use of chlorpyrifos on food,” Marisa Ordonia, an attorney for Earthjustice, which is suing the E.P.A., told POLITICO.

And POLITICO’s coverage of the 9th Circuit indicates frustration on the part of the judges.

“You’ve had 10 years or more to look at this,” Judge Margaret McKeown told a Justice Department attorney. “We’ve changed administrations, apparently we’ve changed science—how much more time do you need?”


Appeals court orders EPA to act on demands to ban chlorpyrifos


States Weigh Banning A Widely Used Pesticide Even Though EPA Won’t

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