EPA Dismisses Science on Pesticide Chlorpyrifos Citing Lack Of “Raw Data”

Grapes sprayed with pesticides     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Monica Medina and Rozi Beresin-Scher, ODP Contributing Writer

The Trump Administration announced last week that it has rejected the settled scientific evidence linking the pesticide chlorpyrifos to serious health problems, particularly in children. This pesticide, which is widely used on soybeans, almonds, grapes, and other crops, has been proven to harm children’s neurological development. The agency now claims that the science on the subject “remains unresolved,” which directly contradicts the agency’s own conclusions from just 5 years ago. In 2017, the Trump administration reversed Barack Obama’s 2015 pledge to ban chlorpyrifos. Now, the EPA is arguing that the scientific research itself is inconclusive by excluding several perfectly conclusive studies by citing “lack of access to raw data,” according to The New York Times.

Why this matters: Under the false flag of transparency, EPA is putting children at greater risk.  The agency is now disregarding the science it previously relied upon apparently due to a proposed new rule allowing it to disregard studies where the patients’ identities and medical records are kept anonymous, a common practice in clinical research. As the New York Times put it when the “transparency” rule was first proposed, “[this] regulation would let the federal government dismiss or downplay some of the most important environmental research of the past decades.”  It looks like that is exactly what EPA just did — despite the potential harm to children and farm workers.  

Deadly Consequences

In 2018, the agrochemical trade group CropLife petitioned the EPA to halt any regulatory decisions that are heavily influenced by epidemiological data. According to the New York Times, this strategy mirrors efforts once made by tobacco companies to undermine research on the dangers of smoking. The rule entitled “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” which epidemiologist David Michaels describes as “weaponized transparency,” requires regulators to privilege scientific studies where the data is publicly released. Because epidemiological studies track participants’ health, their raw data often includes confidential medical records. 

Fetal exposure to chlorpyrifos has been linked to lower birth weight, learning disabilities, and loss of working memory for toddlers.  As Earthjustice explained in its statement reacting to the EPA’s decision, “chlorpyrifos is just one of dozens of organophosphates (OP) pesticides linked with damage to the developing brains of children. A growing body of evidence shows that prenatal exposure to very low levels of chlorpyrifos — levels far lower than what EPA used to set regulatory limits — harms babies permanently. Studies show that exposure to chlorpyrifos, and other OP pesticides during pregnancy, is associated with lower birth weight, attention deficit disorders, autism spectrum disorder, reduced IQ, and loss of working memory.”  Earthjustice sued the agency on behalf of dozens of farmworkers and health groups at the time when it first withdrew the Obama rule and won. In July of 2019 even when ordered to do so by the court, EPA refused to ban chlorpyrifos from food, a decision which Earthjustice again challenged in a case that is still pending.

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