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Court slams EPA failure to protect children and farmworkers from toxic pesticide

EPA ordered to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days

 SEATTLE, WA—The environmental protection Agency must ban a widely used organophosphate pesticide linked to brain damage in children, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today. The appellate court ordered EPA to finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos based on undisputed findings that the pesticide is unsafe for public health, and particularly harmful to children and farmworkers.

 “The Court ended EPA’s shameful actions that have exposed children and farmworkers to this poison for decades,” said Earthjustice attorney Marisa Ordonia. “Finally, our fields, fruits, and vegetables will be chlorpyrifos free.”

Chlorpyrifos is a dangerous nerve agent pesticide that can damage the developing brains of children.  Prenatal and early life 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. It is also acutely toxic to farmworkers – routinely sickening workers and sending them to the hospital.

Chlorpyirifos was first developed by the Nazis for chemical warfare but later repurposed for agriculture. It is widely used on apples, oranges, broccoli, and dozens of other crops. It’s been banned from home use for about two decades, as it is too toxic to children. The court ruling details EPA’s long, illegal delay in acting to ban chlorpyrifos, even after the science clearly showed the harm and risks to children’s health.  The court explained that enough was enough: “If Congress’s statutory mandates are to mean anything, the time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion.”

 The court ruling comes more than a year after the Trump Administration reversed EPA’s own proposal to ban this pesticide. That decision came weeks after former EPA boss Scott Pruitt met with the head of Dow Chemical, which is the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, selling it under the name of Lorsban. Pruitt then falsely claimed the science is “unresolved” and decided EPA would study the issue until 2022.

“We are elated with the court’s decision as it ends EPA’s irresponsible actions,” said Sindy Benavides, chief executive officer at the League of United Latin American Citizens. “For years corporations like Dow were able to hijack our government to put profit before people. But today the court sided with reason. Children and farmworkers have the right to live and work without risk of poisonings.”

“We applaud the court ruling. Chlorpyrifos affects everyone who comes in contact with this toxic chemical; allowing the use of this toxic chemical is not only irresponsible, it is a crime,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement executive director. “Our agricultural fields should be a source of life, not sickness and we will continue pushing for a safe environment for our farm workers all over the nation.”

“This court ruling is an enormous step in the right direction. The scientific evidence is clear. Chlorpyrifos is toxic to farmworkers and is linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children,” said Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association. “We must have a chlorpyrifos ban.”

“This decision confirms what EPA and scientists have said for years. Chlorpyrifos must be off our fruits and vegetables for the sake of our children and farmworkers,” said Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN. “We look forward to see a ban in place soon.”

“We applaud this decision by the 9th Circuit Court that validates the 2016 rule by EPA to ban all food uses of this neurotoxic pesticide,“ said Jeannie Economos from the Farmworker Association of Florida. Chlorpyrifo is a major threat to the health of farmworker children. Families living in rural communities can breathe easier, knowing that they will soon no longer have to be exposed to this harmful agricultural chemical, which should have been banned more than a decade ago.”

“This ruling is a long-overdue victory for children’s health,” Maureen Swanson with the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “We are pleased that the court looked at the overwhelming evidence of harm to babies’ brains from chlorpyrifos, and ordered EPA to do its job, and ban this dangerous pesticide.”

“The EPA has put the women and men who harvest the food we eat every day in harm’s way too long by allowing the continued use of this dangerous neurotoxin,”  said Erik Nicholson, United Farm Workers of America national vice-president. “We commend the court for doing what EPA should have done years ago.  The people who feed us deserve a safe and healthy workplace.”

“We are pleased with the court’s decision to move forward on this case,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. “Farmworkers and their families have needlessly suffered from exposure to chlorpyrifos for far too long.”

“We are gratified that the court recognized the urgency of protecting children from a pesticide that we know is linked to neurodevelopmental harms,” said Anne Katten, Pesticide and Work Safety Project director at the CRLA Foundation. “Chlorpyrifos has no place in our fruits and vegetables, let alone our agricultural fields.”

“This court decision not only protects the health of children and farmworkers, it also affirms EPA’s duty to actually protect public health,” said Kristin Schafer, executive director at PAN. “Under this administration, apparently it takes judges to force our public agencies to stand up to corporate interests and do their jobs.”

“This court decision is a great victory for the health of our farmworkers and our families,” said Mark Magaña, President & CEO of GreenLatinos. “Production of food for our tables should not put at risk the neurodevelopment of children nor poison farmworkers. EPA must now side with public health, not corporate profit, and ban chlorpyrifos for all uses.”

“Some things are too sacred to play politics with—and our kids top the list,” said Erik Olson, Senior Director of Health and Food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The court has made it clear that children’s health must come before powerful polluters. This is a victory for parents everywhere who want to feed their kids fruits and veggies without fear it’s harming their brains or poisoning communities.”

A decade ago, Earthjustice and partners began legal action to protect children, farmworkers, and rural communities from chlorpyrifos. While families across the country are at risk of dangerous exposure through food, farmworkers and children living in rural Latino communities face disproportionate risk. Chlorpyrifos is unsafe for farmworkers even with the most protective safety gear. In addition, their children risk exposure at home, as chemicals can linger on work clothes. Moreover, anyone living downwind of farms risks exposure when the wind carries the toxic spray into schools and homes.

Read the legal document.

Learn more about chlorpyrifos.