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US Environmental Agency Greenlights Neurotoxic Pesticide

Science Links Exposure to Chlorpyrifos to Developmental Delay in Children

A 12-year-old girl picks cucumbers on a Michigan farm. © 2009 ROMANO

Last week, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed interim decision that would allow for continued use of the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. The decision is based on evaluations that directly contradict previous EPA conclusions linking the chemical to developmental delay in children.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a class of chemicals called organophosphates, which scientists have linked to childhood cancers. Scientists have also found chlorpyrifos exposure to increase the risk of neurodevelopmental challenges such as learning disabilities and ADHD, as well as dizziness, confusion, respiratory paralysis, and death.

Globally, a number of regulatory bodies have recognized these health threats, announcing bans on chlorpyrifos across the European Union and in a number of US states including Hawaii, Maryland, California, and New York.

The EPA is also on record acknowledging the health risks of chlorpyrifos. As a result of these concerns, the agency proposed a ban on chlorpyrifos five years ago in response to a petition from public interest groups. Following President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017 – to which the manufacturer of the pesticide, Corteva (formerly DowDuPont), contributed USD $1 million – his administration denied the petition to ban it.

The EPA’s most recent evaluation is further cause for concern. The agency excluded a number of epidemiological studies from its review, including one from Columbia University that found a correlation between prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and developmental disorders in toddlers.

All pesticides distributed or sold in the United States are subject to review every 15 years to ensure that their registration by the EPA is based on scientific data showing that they will not cause unreasonable risks to human health or to the environment when used as directed. But the agency has not made that determination in its interim assessment; instead, it is putting it off until the full review is completed by 2022, stating that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”

The EPA’s claims that there exists a lack of certainty about these harms are not an adequate basis for continuing to permit the use of a hazardous pesticide.

By continuing to allow the use of chlorpyrifos in the country’s food supply, the EPA is putting at risk the right to health of all children exposed to it in the United States.

President-elect Joe Biden should act on his commitment to increase protections from pesticide exposures by ensuring that chlorpyrifos is not re-registered for use in the US when his administration takes office in January 2021.

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