U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order yesterday denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide the agency deemed potentially dangerous to consumers during the Obama administration.

The EPA cited scientific uncertainty about chlorpyrifos’s risks in its decision.

Exposure to chlorpyrifos, which was introduced by Dow Chemical in 1965, has been linked to neurological effects, developmental disorders and autoimmune disorders. It was banned in 2001 for home use in the U.S. but remains widely used in agriculture.

"Returning to sound science"

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said Pruitt in a statement. “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.”

The decision was hailed by Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) who called chlorpyrifos and important pest management tool.

“This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States,” said Kunickis. “It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables.”

Reduced IQ, autism

The United Farm Workers (UFW) had backed an agricultural ban on the substance, citing studies showing that it harmed children’s developing brains and nervous systems — including reduced IQ and increased risk of autism.

Agricultural workers aren’t the only ones who may be affected. Chlorpyrifos residues are found on many fruits and vegetables.

Pruitt said the EPA’s Obama-era proposal to revoke all food residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos “relied on certain epidemiological study outcomes, whose application is novel and uncertain, to reach its conclusions.”

According to  Pruitt: “The public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on – and misapplication of – studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal.”

Children exposed

Environmentalists disagree.

“EPA turned a blind-eye to extensive scientific evidence and peer reviews documenting serious harm to children and their developing brains, including increased risk of learning disabilities, reductions in IQ, developmental delay, autism and ADHD,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Senior Scientist at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Today’s decision means children across the country will continue to be exposed to unsafe pesticide residues in their food and drinking water.”

“EPA essentially caved-in to corporate pressure, failed to follow overpowering scientific evidence of harm to children’s brains, and ignored findings that all exposures to chlorpyrifos on foods, in drinking water, and from pesticide drift to schools, homes, and playgrounds are unsafe,” said Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network. 

To view the petition: https://www.epa.gov/pesticides