Federal Appeals Court Rules EPA Does Not Have to Ban Harmful Pesticide

By Ayana Byrd Jul 19, 2017

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed an appeal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrofis yesterday (July 18). The chemical is linked to health problems for farmworkers, their families and those who eat food treated with it.

The ruling was the result of a motion filed three months ago by Earthjustice, representing Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council, requesting that the EPA make a decision on whether or not to ban the chemical. Per the appeals court ruling, the agency can now take up to five years to decide, with chlorpyrofis remaining in use during that time.

In 2016, the Obama Administration-era EPA concluded that chlorpyrifos, which is used to control pests on crops including apples, citrus, broccoli and cauliflower, had the potential to harm farmworkers and children. However, on March 29, President Donald Trump appointee and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that he had signed an order to deny a petition from environmental groups to ban the pesticide, saying that it was “crucial to agriculture” and arguing that the science was “unresolved” regarding the danger to humans.

Chlorpyrifos, which is from the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, was banned from residential use in 2001. It can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and unconsciousness. A 2012 study by Columbia University found prenatal exposure can lead to developmental damage in the brain structure of children. High levels of exposure can also lead to respiratory paralysis and death, according to information listed on the EPA website.

Exposure to chlorpyrifos can occur by eating vegetables and fruits sprayed with it, but it is most dangerous to those working in fields where it is used. According to an article in ThinkProgress, “Farmworkers, particularly immigrant workers, are at greatest risk of lingering health problems because they have the most direct contact to insecticides through direct spray, aerial drift and contact with residues.” It is also possible that farmworkers could carry the chemical indoors on their clothing, shoes and skin, putting their families at risk.

“Trump’s EPA is handing out favors to his cronies in the chemical industry, at the expense of children’s health and well being. This dangerous chemical has no place in our communities or on the food we feed our families,” Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in response to the federal appeals court decision.

Last month, seven state district attorneys and a dozen health, labor and civil rights organizations filed an administrative appeal to the EPA urging the agency to ban chlorpyrifos. Groups included the League of United Latin American Citizens, United Farm Workers, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and National Hispanic Medical Association. It is Pruitt’s responsibility to respond to this appeal, but yesterday’s federal court decision means that he is not under time pressure to do so.