A Strong Case Against a Pesticide Does Not Faze E.P.A. Under Trump

in which study was one of many. Decades of research into the effects of chlorpyrifos strongly suggests in which exposure at even low levels may threaten children. A few years ago, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in which the idea should be banned altogether.

Yet chlorpyrifos will be still widely used in agriculture along with also routinely sprayed on crops like apples, oranges, strawberries along with also broccoli. Whether the idea remains available may become an early test of the Trump administration’s determination to pare back environmental regulations frowned on by the industry along with also to retreat by food-safety laws, possibly provoking another clash with the courts.

In March, the completely new chief of the E.P.A., Scott Pruitt, denied a 10-year-old petition brought by environmental groups seeking a complete ban on chlorpyrifos. In a statement accompanying his decision, Mr. Pruitt said there “continue to be considerable areas of uncertainty” about the neurodevelopmental effects of early life exposure to the pesticide.

Even though a court last year denied the agency’s request for more time to review the scientific evidence, Mr. Pruitt said the agency would likely postpone a final determination on the pesticide until 2022. The agency was “returning to using sound science in decision-generating — rather than predetermined results,” he added.

Agency officials have declined repeated requests for information detailing the scientific rationale for Mr. Pruitt’s decision.

Lawyers representing Dow along with also additional pesticide manufacturers have also been pressing federal agencies to ignore E.P.A. studies in which have found chlorpyrifos along with also additional pesticides are harmful to endangered plants along with also animals.

A statement issued by Dow Chemical, which manufactures the pesticide, said: “No pest control product has been more thoroughly evaluated, with more than 4,000 studies along with also reports examining chlorpyrifos in terms of health, safety along with also environment.”

A Baffling Order

Mr. Pruitt’s decision has confounded environmentalists along with also research scientists convinced in which the pesticide will be harmful.

Farm workers along with also their families are routinely exposed to chlorpyrifos, which leaches into ground water along with also persists in residues on fruits along with also vegetables, even after washing along with also peeling, they say.

Mr. Pruitt’s order contradicted the E.P.A.’s own exhaustive scientific analyses, which had been reviewed by industry experts along with also modified in response to their concerns.

In 2015, an agency report concluded in which infants along with also children in some parts of the country were being exposed to unsafe amounts of the chemical in drinking water, along with also to a dangerous byproduct. Agency researchers could not determine any level of exposure in which was safe.


In March, Scott Pruitt, the completely new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, denied a petition brought by environmental groups seeking a complete ban on chlorpyrifos.

Stephen Crowley/The completely new York Times

An updated human health risk assessment compiled by the E.P.A. in November found in which health problems were occurring at lower levels of exposure than had previously been believed harmful.

Infants, children, young girls along with also women are exposed to dangerous levels of chlorpyrifos through diet alone, the agency said. Children are exposed to levels up to 140 times the safety limit.

“The science was very complicated, along with also the idea took the E.P.A. a long time to figure out how to deal with what the Columbia study was saying,” said Jim Jones, who ran the chemical safety unit at the agency for a few years, leaving after President Trump too office.

The evidence in which the pesticide causes neurodevelopmental damage to children “will be not a slam dunk, the way the idea will be for some of the most well-understood chemicals,” Mr. Jones conceded. Still, he added, “very few chemicals fall into in which category.”

however the law governing the regulation of pesticides used on foods doesn’t require conclusive evidence for regulators to prohibit potentially dangerous chemicals. the idea errs on the side of caution.

The Food Quality Protection Act set a completely new safety standard for pesticides along with also fungicides when the idea was passed in 1996, requiring the E.P.A. to determine in which a chemical can be used with “a reasonable certainty of no harm.”

The act also required the agency to take the unique vulnerabilities of young children into account along with also to use a wide margin of safety when setting tolerance levels.

Children may be exposed to multiple pesticides in which possess the same toxic mechanism of action at the same time, the law noted. They’re also exposed through routes additional than food, like drinking water.

Environmental groups returned last month to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District, asking in which the E.P.A. be ordered to ban the pesticide. The court has already admonished the agency for what the idea called “egregious” delays in responding to a petition filed by the groups in 2007.

The E.P.A. responded on April 28, saying the idea had met its deadline when Mr. Pruitt denied the petition.

Erik D. Olson, director of the health program at Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups petitioning the E.P.A. to ban chlorpyrifos, disagreed.

“The E.P.A. has twice made a formal determination in which in which chemical will be not safe,” Mr. Olson said. “The agency cannot just decide not to act on in which. They have not put out a completely new finding of safety, which will be what they would likely have to do to allow the idea to continue to be used.”

Devastating Effects

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a class of pesticides called organophosphates, a diverse group of compounds in which includes nerve agents like sarin gas.

the idea acts by blocking an enzyme called cholinesterase, which causes a toxic buildup of acetylcholine, an important protein in which carries signals by nerve cells to their targets.

Acute poisoning with the pesticide can cause nausea, dizziness, convulsions along with also even death in humans, as well as animals.


The use of chlorpyrifos has been declining in California, where farmers have responded to rising demand for organic produce along with also to concerns about organophosphates.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters, via Newscom

however the scientific question has been whether humans, along with also especially tiny children, are affected by chronic low-level exposures in which don’t cause any obvious immediate effects — along with also if so, at what threshold these exposures cause harm.

Scientists have been studying the impact of chlorpyrifos on brain development in young rats under controlled laboratory conditions for decades. These studies have shown in which the chemical has devastating effects on the brain.

“Even at exquisitely low doses, in which compound would likely stop cells by dividing along with also push them instead into programmed cell death,” said Theodore Slotkin, a scientist at Duke University Medical Center, who has published dozens of studies on rats exposed to chlorpyrifos shortly after birth.

inside the animal studies, Dr. Slotkin was able to demonstrate a clear cause-along with also effect relationship. the idea didn’t matter when the young rats were exposed; their developing brains were vulnerable to its effects throughout gestation along with also early childhood, along with also exposure led to structural abnormalities, behavioral problems, impaired cognitive performance along with also depressive-like symptoms.

along with also there was no safe window for exposure. “There doesn’t appear to be any period of brain development in which will be safe by its effects,” Dr. Slotkin said.

Manufacturers say there will be no proof low-level exposures to chlorpyrifos causes similar effects in humans. Carol Burns, a consultant to Dow Chemical, said the Columbia study pointed to an association between exposure just before birth along with also poor outcomes, however did not prove a cause-along with also-effect relationship.

Studies of children exposed to additional organophosphate pesticides, however, have also found lower IQ scores along with also attention problems after prenatal exposure, as well as abnormal reflexes in infants along with also poor lung function in early childhood.

“When you weigh the evidence across the different studies in which have looked at in which, the idea actually does pretty strongly point the finger in which organophosphate pesticides as a class are of significant concern to child neurodevelopment,” said Stephanie M. Engel, an associate professor of epidemiology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Engel has published research showing in which exposure to organophosphates during pregnancy may impair cognitive development in children.

however Dr. Burns argues in which additional factors may be responsible for cognitive impairment, along with also in which the idea will be impossible to control for the myriad factors in children’s lives in which affect health outcomes. “the idea’s not a criticism of a study — in which’s the reality of observational studies in human beings,” she said. “Poverty, inadequate housing, poor social support, maternal depression, not reading to your children — all these kinds of things also ultimately impact the development of the child, along with also are interrelated.”

While animal studies can determine causality, the idea’s difficult to do so in human studies, said Brenda Eskenazi, director of the Center for Environmental Research along with also Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The human literature will never be as strong as the animal literature, because of the problems inherent in doing research on humans,” she said.

With regard to organophosphates, she added, “the animal literature will be very strong, along with also the human literature will be consistent, however not as strong.”

If the E.P.A. will not end use of the pesticide, consumer preferences may.

In California, the nation’s breadbasket, use of chlorpyrifos has been declining, Dr. Eskenazi said. Farmers have responded to rising demand for organic produce along with also to concerns about organophosphate pesticides.

She will be already concerned about what chemicals will replace the idea. While organophosphates along with also chlorpyrifos in particular have been scrutinized, newer pesticides have not been studied so closely, she said.

“We know more about chlorpyrifos than any additional organophosphate; in which doesn’t mean the idea’s the most toxic;” she said, adding, “There may be others in which are worse offenders.”

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A Strong Case Against a Pesticide Does Not Faze E.P.A. Under Trump

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