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The EPA Still Has Not Banned a Pesticide That It Admits Is Harmful to Kids

The fight against Chlorpyrifos is far from over.

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Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the EPA’s decision to not ban a potentially harmful pesticide from being used on fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S. The pesticide, which contains a chemical called Chlorpyrifos, has been shown to risk compromising children’s developing brains and nervous systems.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA proposed implementing a ban that would stop Chlorpyrifos from being used on crops, as applying it to homes was already banned at the time. However, in keeping with Trump’s anti-regulation doctrine, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt did away with the proposal, allowing for the continued use of Chlorpyrifos.

Chemicals like Chlorpyrifos are used in pesticides to kill bugs and prevent weed growth because they’re known for damaging the nervous and reproductive systems of their targets. However, exposure to Chlorpyrifos in early life – as well as in utero – have been found to potentially increase the likelihood of a child developing a learning disability like ADHD.

While one can blame anti-regulation policies for the decision to keep allowing Chlorpyrifos, that is just scratching the surface. Special interest is likely playing a role, as Dow Chemical – the number one manufacturer of the chemical – donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration last year. That’s on top of the $13.6 million that Dow Chemical spent on lobbying in 2016 alone, according to the Associated Press.

It’s not like the EPA doesn’t believe the chemical is harmless. Its own website notes how “expected residues of chlorpyrifos on food crops exceed the safety standard under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,” before outright saying that “the majority of estimated drinking water exposure from currently registered uses, including water exposure from non-food uses, continues to exceed safe levels.”

Despite what the EPA says, there is some debate about how that conclusion was reached. Given that chlorpyrifos and sarin gas are in the same class of chemicals, when the EPA proposed the chlorpyrifos ban under the Obama administration, it was erring on the side of caution.  The data used in the proposal to ban chlorpyrifos hinged on the fact that adults who work with the chemical on the industrial level had felt the side-effects, but there wasn’t a link to actual cases of developmental defects through the consumption of food with the chemical in it.  In other words, though the effects of chlorpyrifos exposure are certain, it’s questionable whether there’s enough of the chemical on individual food items to pose a threat to consumers. 

Still, the fight to put an end to Chlorpyrifos usage isn’t over. Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council, seven state Attorney Generals, and several other food and environmental advocates began pushing Congress to act against the chemical. As a result, members of Congress in both the house and senate have proposed a bill that would ban Chlorpyrifos for good, according to the NRDC.