Pruitt Shoots Down Pesticide Ban in First Major Move as EPA Head

By Yessenia Funes Mar 30, 2017

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken his first formal action as the head of the agency in refusing to ban a pesticide the EPA has long determined is detrimental to public health.

Pruitt announced in a statement yesterday (March 29) that he had signed an order to deny a petition environmental groups put forth in 2007 to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness and even unconsciousness in severe instances. The EPA said, in that statement, that the pesticide is “crucial to U.S. agriculture.”

However, the agency had previously proposed, in October 2015, to revoke food residue limits on the pesticide. A November 2016 EPA analysis confirmed that the pesticide exceeded “the safety standard under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.” That analysis made it clear that chlorpyrifos presented a risk to drinking water and those who handle the product aka farmworkers.

The current administration disagrees.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said in the 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 groups who issued the petition, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and United Farm Workers, are now shunning Pruitt and the agency’s decision, accusing them of creating “adverse neurodevelopmental harm to children,” as put in a press release by Earthjustice. Children are especially vulnerable because of their tendency to play in dirt, put their hands in their mouths and consume a lot of fruits and vegetables for their weight, according to Earthjustice.

“EPA’s refusal to ban this dangerous pesticide is unconscionable,” said Patti Goldman, the managing attorney handling the case, in the release. “EPA is defying its legal obligation to protect children from unsafe pesticides. We will be going back and asking the court to order EPA to take action now, rather than in five more years.”

When the groups re-filed the petition in September 2016, farmworkers rights groups also expressed concern for the Latinx community, who make up 76 percent of the farm labor workforce.

"Farmworkers, who are predominantly poor and the majority are people of color, bear the brunt of poisonings from chlorpyrifos,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice, in a statement previously sent to Colorlines. “EPA must swiftly move forward on the path to environmental justice and ban all uses of chlorpyrifos.”

Pruitt’s ban will likely put off any pesticide ban until 2022, when the agency is formally mandated to re-evaluate chlorpyrifos.