• May 22nd, 2022
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Pesticide Linked to Brain Damage in Children

Recently, Earthjustice representing Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council asked a panel of three federal appeals court judges to order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act based on its own scientific conclusions and permanently ban chlorpyrifos, a highly dangerous pesticide linked to many health hazards, particularly to children’s brains.

The groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to direct the EPA to act within 30 days to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos, based on the agency’s repeated findings that the pesticide is unsafe. The move comes a week after the EPA refused to ban chlorpyrifos despite its own findings that the pesticide is unsafe in food, drinking water, and pesticide drift. Prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos is linked to lower birth weight and neurodevelopmental harms, including reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders, and delayed motor development.

“President Trump and his EPA flouted court orders and EPA’s scientific findings that chlorpyrifos puts children, farmworkers, their families and many others at risk,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. “We are asking the court to protect children by ordering EPA to take action now to ban chlorpyrifos.”

Last November, EPA released an updated assessment of the risks linked to chlorpyrifos. It concluded there is NO safe level for chlorpyrifos exposure in food or drinking water, and that workers are exposed to unsafe levels of the pesticide even with maximum protective controls. The EPA also confirmed chlorpyrifos is found at unsafe levels in the air at schools and homes adjacent to agricultural areas.

Photo: Annette Dubois / CC BY 2.0 Children often experience greater exposure to chlorpyrifos because they drink more water and juice for their weight, relative to adults, and frequently put their hands in their mouths.

“EPA is refusing to take this chemical off the market—but it is not rescinding its own scientists’ finding that this pesticide is toxic to children,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at NRDC. “Parents shouldn’t have to worry that a dangerous chemical might be lurking in the fruits and veggies they feed their kids. The health of our children must come before chemical corporations.”

Residential uses of chlorpyrifos were banned 17 years ago. However, this neurotoxic pesticide is still widely used on staple foods like strawberries, corn, wheat, and citrus. In fact, over half of all apples and broccoli in the U.S. are sprayed with chlorpyrifos.

“EPA’s stunning reversal on chlorpyrifos in the face of overpowering scientific evidence of harm to children signals yet another dereliction of duty under the Trump administration,” said Kristin Schafer, policy director for Pesticide Action Network. “If it takes a court order for EPA to stand up to pressure from Dow’s lobbyists and do right by children and their families, then so be it.”

“The EPA said repeatedly that this pesticide is not safe,” said Erik Nicholson, National Vice President of United Farm Workers. “It is long past time for EPA to permanently ban all uses of chlorpyrifos, stop caving-in to corporate interests, and focus on the wellbeing of workers and their children who live in areas surrounded by pesticides.”

In addition to asking the court to order EPA to ban all food uses of chlorpyrifos, the groups asked the court to order EPA to begin canceling all chlorpyrifos uses. The agency had been under court order to issue a ruling by March 31st resulting from NRDC and PAN’s 2007 petition to ban the pesticide.

What is Chlorpyrifos?

Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic pesticide widely used in U.S. agriculture. Generally sprayed on crops, it’s used to kill a variety of agricultural pests. It has a slightly skunky odor, similar to rotten eggs or garlic, and can be harmful if it is touched, inhaled, or eaten.

Chlorpyrifos is acutely toxic and associated with neurodevelopmental harms in children. Prenatal exposures to chlorpyrifos are associated with lower birth weight, reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders, and delayed motor development.

Acute poisoning suppresses the enzyme that regulates nerve impulses in the body and can cause convulsions, respiratory paralysis, and, in extreme cases, death. Chlorpyrifos is one of the pesticides most often linked to pesticide poisonings.

How Are People Exposed to Chlorpyrifos?

People are exposed to chlorpyrifos through residues on food, drinking water contamination, and toxic spray drift from pesticide applications. Farmworkers are exposed to it from mixing, handling, and applying the pesticide; as well as from entering fields where chlorpyrifos was recently sprayed. Residential uses of chlorpyrifos ended in 2000 after EPA found unacceptable risks to kids.

Children often experience greater exposure to chlorpyrifos and other pesticides because they frequently put their hands in their mouths and, relative to adults, they eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink more water and juice for their weight.

Which Crops Have Chlorpyrifos On Them?

Chlorpyrifos is used on a wide variety of crops including apples, oranges, strawberries, corn, wheat, citrus and other foods families and their children eat daily.

In fact, over half of all apples and broccoli in the U.S. are sprayed with chlorpyrifos. USDA’s Pesticide Data Program found chlorpyrifos residue on citrus and melons even after being washed and peeled. By volume, chlorpyrifos is most used on corn and soybeans, with over a million pounds applied annually to each crop.

Is There Anything I Can Do?

Urge your elected officials to keep this toxic pesticide out of our food, our water, our schools and yards, and our bodies. Since the EPA’s refusal on March 29 to ban chlorpyrifos, 52,938 Earthjustice supporters have sent messages to their Congressional representatives, governor and state Attorney General, asking them to hold the EPA accountable. Send your own message today at earthjustice.org.