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Groups sue Trump’s EPA for refusing to ban brain-damaging pesticide

Chlorpyrifos is linked to learning & intellectual disabilities in children

SEATTLE, WA—Today, health and labor organizations sued Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency for refusing to ban a widely used agricultural pesticide linked to damaging children’s brains and farmworker poisonings.  

“EPA has repeatedly found chlorpyrifos unsafe, especially to children, yet time and time again it refuses to protect kids,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice managing attorney handling the case. “But Earthjustice and our clients won’t stand for this. The science and the law call for a chlorpyrifos ban. We are hopeful the courts will do the same for the sake of children and farmworkers.”

Advocates and seven states have been battling the Trump administration in court to get a chlorpyrifos ban. Moreover, some states are not waiting for the EPA and have filed bills of their own to ban this harmful pesticide. Legislators in New York just recently passed a ban bill that awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature, spurring the support of over 80 New York State coalition members that banded together to urge Gov. Cuomo to sign ban into law. Hawaii passed a bill to ban chlorpyrifos in 2018 and California, the largest agricultural state in the nation, started a process to ban the pesticide. The European Union is also  considering a ban for 2020.

In response to a court deadline, last month EPA said chlorpyrifos can still be used on fruits and vegetables, even though studies show that  exposures to chlorpyrifos in infants and children  are associated with reduced IQ, attention disorders, and  autism. In its decision, EPA claims it can avoid taking action on chlorpyrifos until 2022, when it is supposed to finish a massive pesticide review. In the meantime, countless numbers of children are being exposed to a nerve agent pesticide EPA scientists deemed unsafe in 2014 and 2016.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate (OP), a class of chemicals that includes sarin nerve gas. First developed by the Nazis for chemical warfare, OPs were later repurposed for agricultural uses. Chlorpyrifos and other OP pesticides are used on strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli, corn, and more. In fact, chlorpyrifos is one of the most common insecticides in the United States. Residues can be found not just in food, but also in drinking water. Farmworkers and rural families are most exposed, but consumers across the country are at risk, too, given chlorpyrifos widespread use.

Chlorpyrifos and the other OP pesticides were banned from almost all home use nearly two decades ago. EPA proposed banning chlorpyrifos from food crops in 2015. But shortly after Trump took office, the EPA in 2017 refused to finalize the proposed ban, falsely claiming the science is “unresolved” despite decades of research and suggesting the agency would study the issue until 2022. That decision came after Dow Chemical donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and after its top executive spoke at a Trump rally in Michigan. The company, now known as Corteva Agriscience, sells chlorpyrifos under the trade name Lorsban.

Quotes from our partners:

“The scientific evidence has been clear for years. Chlorpyrifos is toxic to farmworkers and linked to irreversible neurodevelopmental harms in children,” said Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association. “Trump’s EPA might want to dismiss the science and the law to protect corporate profit, but we are confident the courts won’t stand for this.”

“Having chlorpyrifos in our fields means that women and men who harvest our food are in harm’s way every day,” said Erik Nicholson, United Farm Workers of America national vice-president. “We will fight to right this wrong in the court of law and the court of public opinion until a ban is in place.”

“Studies show chlorpyrifos is an awful threat to the health of children, particularly farmworker children and those who live in rural areas,“ said Jeannie Economos from the Farmworker Association of Florida. “If the Trump administration refuses to stand up for children’s health, then the only recourse is to force them through the courts.”

“Trump’s EPA has yet again failed farmworkers and children when it refused to ban chlorpyrifos despite all the science that called for the opposite,” said Iris Figueroa, staff attorney at Farmworker Justice. “We hope the courts will take the lead and amend this grave mistake. Farmworkers, families and developing children must be safe from chlorpyrifos and most importantly, from preventable illness.”

“A chlorpyrifos ban is long overdue given the overwhelming evidence that says this pesticide harms brain development in children,” said Tracy Gregoire with the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “We are hopeful the courts will side with children who are now being exposed to irreparable, yet preventable harm.”

“A nerve agent pesticide that poisons workers and damages children’s developing brain has no place near our fruits and vegetables,” said Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN. “We look forward to seeing the courts do what EPA refuses to do, protect workers and children with a chlorpyrifos ban.”

“It’s absurd that we have to ask the court to force EPA to do its job,” said Kristin Schafer, Pesticide Action Network executive director, one of the plaintiffs in the original 2007 case. “Scientists have known for years that chlorpyrifos puts the health of farmworkers and children in danger. Instead of acting on this evidence, EPA has chosen to ignore it — putting Dow Chemical’s profits before public health.”

“EPA’s backtracking has put the health of children and farmworkers at risk by purposely overlooking the harms of a terrible pesticide,” said Anne Katten, Pesticide and Work Safety Project director at the CRLA Foundation. “We are hopeful the courts will soon intervene and make a chlorpyrifos ban a reality. Our fields must be made safe for farmworkers, and our fruits and vegetables must be safe for our children.”

“We will not stand by while the Trump administration fights to keep this poison on the food we feed our kids,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at NRDC. “EPA knows this stuff is toxic—its own scientists have been sounding the alarm for years now—but this administration is shameless in its push to keep it on the market. We are urging the court to side with children over a powerful chemical industry with friends in high places. Chlorpyrifos does not belong on our food or in our fields.”

To speak with community leaders and advocates involved in the case, please contact:

Ahna Kruzic, Pesticide Action Network, 510-927-5379  

Anne Katten, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, 916-446-7904 x110  

Kate Kiely, Natural Resources Defense Council, 212-727-4592  

Ben Melano, National Hispanic Medical Association, 202-628-5895  

Erik Nicholson, United Farm Workers, 206-255-5774  

Jeannie Economos, Farmworker Association of Florida, 407-886-5151  

Andrea Arenas, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement,202-508-6989  

Ramon Ramirez, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, 503-989-0073

Bruce Goldstein, Farmworker Justice, (202) 293-5420

Tracy Gregoire, Learning Disablilities Association of America, 207-504-2556 

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Pesticide Action Network North America, Natural Resources Defense Council, United Farm Workers, Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, National Hispanic Medical Association, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos, Learning Disability Association of America, League of United Latin American Citizens, and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.