Chlorpyrifos Tragedy enabled by EPA

The ongoing chlorpyrifos tragedy that has unfolded over several decades shows once again how our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been captured by industry. EPA executives have violated the agency’s own rules in order to keep chlorpyrifos on the market. The story of chlorpyrifos – along with Monsanto’s cancerous Roundup – shows just how blatant the corruption of the agency has become.

Related: Monsanto Trials reveal EPA Industry Ties

What is Chlorpyrifos?

Chlorpyrifos is a highly toxic pesticide harming our children and us, as industrial chemical farming operators continue to use it despite well-established data proving its neurotoxicity.

Chlorpyrifos (pronounced: klawr-pir-uh-fos) is widely used in U.S. chemical agriculture. Industrial farmers spray it on crops to kill different  pests. It smells slightly skunky or sulfuric, somewhat like rotten eggs or garlic. It can harm those who touch, inhale, or eat food it has poisoned, and that involves a lot of food, including most of the naton’s GMO corn and many of our non-organic fruits and vegetables.

Lower Birth Weight, Reduced IQ, Loss of Memory, More

Acutely toxic, chlorpyrifos is linked with neurodevelopmental harms in children. Prenatal chlorpyrifos exposures are linked with lower birth weight, reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders, delayed motor development.

Acute poisoning suppresses the enzyme that regulates nerve impulses in the body and can cause convulsions, respiratory paralysis, and sometimes even death. Chlorpyrifos is one of the pesticides most often linked to pesticide poisonings. Besides “accidental” exposures, the poison has harmed  thousands of people directly, purposely, as it was first used in trench warfare as a nerve gas agent to sicken or kill the other side’s soldiers.

How are people exposed to chlorpyrifos?

Today, civilians are exposed to chlorpyrifos through residues on foods commonly sprayed with it, like corn, wheat, fruits and vegetables; by drinking water contamination; from toxic spray that drifts from pesticide applications. Farm workers are exposed to chlorpyrifos from mixing, handling, and spraying it. They also face chlorpyrifos exposure while entering fields where it was recently sprayed.

EPA Bans Chlorpyrifos’ Home Use in 2000

Even the EPA has found unacceptable risks to human beings, banning chlorpyrifos for home use in 2000. (Apparently the agency thinks the chemical has magical “targeting” properties when used on our food and made to run off into our drinking water.) Children are especially at risk because they often stick their hands in their mouths. They also eat more fruits and vegetables and drink more water and juice for their weight compared with adults.

EPA reneges on Chlorpyrifos Ban

Many grassroots citizen’s groups, like Earthjustice, have demanded that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ban chlorpyrifos, as it is known to harm human health, water, and wildlife. The U.S. EPA was mandated by the courts to make a decision in 2017. However, two days before the deadline, the slippery agency refused to ban chlorpyrifos. The EPA then reversed its own proposal to ban the pesticide.

After years of work in the courts, Earthjustice attorneys presented oral arguments – on behalf of the organization’s clients – at a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals en banc re-hearing on Mar. 26, 2019. Earthjustice attorneys argued that chlorpyrifos must be banned from all food uses.

Some 24 days later, the Ninth Circuit issued its ruling: U.S. EPA is ordered to decide by Jul. 18 whether to ban chlorpyrifos.

Patti Goldman, the lead attorney, explained the legal issues behind the case shortly before the Ninth Circuit rehearing:

“The Ninth Circuit had, on Aug. 9, 2018, previously ordered U.S. EPA to finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos within 60 days, based on undisputed findings that the pesticide is unsafe for public health, and particularly harmful to children and farmworkers. The agency stalled, requesting the court to re-hear the case.”

The Earthjustice client list includes the League of United Latin American Citizens; Pesticide Action Network North America; Natural Resources Defense Council; California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation; Farmworkers Association of Florida; Farmworker Justice; Greenlatinos; Labor Council for Latin American Advancement; Learning Disabilities Association of America; National Hispanic Medical Association; Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste; and United Farm Workers.

Why Chlorpyrifos needs banning

A growing pile of evidence shows prenatal exposure to even very low levels of chlorpyrifos – those far lower than what EPA has been using – permanently harm babies. Peer-reviewed studies tracking real-world chlorpyrifos exposures of mothers and their children have reached similar conclusions.

In November 2016, EPA released a revised human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos that confirmed that there are no safe uses for the pesticide. EPA found that:

  • All food exposures exceed safe levels. Children aged 1–2 are exposed to levels of chlorpyrifos 140 times what even the EPA deems safe.
  • There is no safe level of chlorpyrifos in drinking water.
  • Pesticide drift reaches unsafe levels at 300 feet from the field’s edge.
  • Chlorpyrifos is found at unsafe levels in the air at schools, homes, and communities in agricultural areas.
  • All workers who mix and apply chlorpyrifos are exposed to unsafe levels of it, even with maximum personal protective equipment and engineering controls.
  • Field workers are allowed to re-enter fields within 1–5 days after pesticide spraying, but unsafe exposures continue 18 days (on average) after applications.

With these shocking findings, one can only wonder how the EPA can now fight to stop or delay a complete ban on this poison. The disgraced former U.S. Attorney General Scott Pruitt began the latest round of EPA corruption when he reversed an Obama-era plan to phase out and ban the chemical entirely. Mr. Pruitt is gone, thankfully, as he resigned under duress; but his dirty work lives on, at least for now.

Chlorpyrifos Lawsuits

Besides lawsuits against the U.S. EPA for failing to enforce its own edicts, chlorpyrifos lawsuits are being filed for people and their children who have been harmed by this toxic chemical made by Dow, who also brought us the war crime poison Agent Orange, along with a nasty list of other toxic chemicals poisoning the world.