Court Ruling Could Result in EPA Finally Banning Chlorpyrifos

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

A long battle over the use of a bug-killing pesticide linked to brain damage in children may be coming to an end. In a ruling last week, a federal appeals court gave the Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, commonly used on oranges, almonds, and other crops — or prove there’s a safe use of the chemical. At the federal level, 2007 petition called for the pesticide to be banned, and the EPA acknowledged its health risks. The Trump administration opted to keep it on the market, stalling an Obama-era proposal to ban it. As we wrote, in 2018 the pesticide became illegal to use in California.

Why This Matters: The pesticide industry used the same playbook as with PFAS, tobacco, and oil: raise doubt about the clear science and prevent immediate action from being taken, to the harm of everyone else. The court decision now gives EPA a mandate to follow the years of science showing the harmful health impacts of chlorpyrifos. Allowing the pesticide to be used is tacit approval; now hopefully there will be one less chemical harming brain development on the market. This is especially important for farmworkers, who are both more directly exposed and more likely to be undocumented people of color, who are “less likely to report illness or injury for fear of retaliation, and less likely to seek or have access to medical care,” according to Human Rights Watch

Directly From the Court

“The EPA has spent more than a decade assembling a record of chlorpyrifos’s ill effects,” U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote. “Yet, rather than ban the pesticide or reduce the tolerances to levels that the EPA can find are reasonably certain to cause no harm, the EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties.”

Chemical Money Slows Regulation

The EPA has known for years that chlorpyrifos is harmful, but has stopped short of banning it most recently during the Trump Administration citing lack of data. This court order will lead to a decision. But it won’t solve the broader problem of chemical industry lobbying. An investigation by The Guardian found that as lawmakers introduced legislation to regulate toxic PFAS chemicals, lobbying dollars spiked — and those investments paid off. “Observers say the results are clear: industry’s congressional allies defeated nearly all PFAS legislation while the Trump EPA killed, watered-down or slow-walked new rules that never went into effect,” The Guardian writes. During 2019 and 2020 alone, “the seven largest PFAS producers and their industry trade groups tallied at least $61m in federal political spending.”

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