Trump Administration Sued Over Pesticide Linked to Brain Damage

Published on August 7, 2019 by Athena Pallas

A pesticide linked to brain damage, including learning and memory impairment, which the Obama administration recommended be banned outright, has been allowed by the Trump administration’s EPA to continue to be used in agriculture, leading to a new lawsuit against the EPA by a prominent advocacy group, Earthjustice. The pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which is marketed under the trade name Lorsban, was and is of such concern for causing brain damage in children that it has been banned for household use ever since 2001. However, it continues to be used broadly in agricultural crops including corn and cranberries. As mentioned above, the Obama administration had recommended that chlorpyrifos be banned outright over human health concerns, but the Trump administration has nonetheless allowed its continued use. It is important to note that the Obama administration recommendation that chlorpyrifos be banned outright came from scientists at the EPA, not as the result of some political consideration; the same cannot be said for the Trump administration’s decision, which appears not to be based on the science.

As a result of a previous lawsuit filed against the EPA by Earthjustice, the EPA was given a deadline to regulate the use of chlorpyrifos. Under that deadline, the Trump administration’s EPA decided last month that they would permit its continued usage in agriculture, bowing to demands from industry officials that indicated that chlorpyrifos is the last line of defense against certain insects that threaten crops. The prospect of the threat to human health resulting from this decision has led Earthjustice to file its new lawsuit against the EPA, with Earthjustice acting on behalf of a collection of interests, including farmworkers, environmentalists, and people with learning disabilities. According to The Hill:

A prominent advocacy group sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday over the agency’s decision to allow further use of a pesticide linked to brain damage. Earthjustice filed its lawsuit in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of groups advocating for environmentalists, farmworkers and people with learning disabilities. The organization argued in court documents that chlorpyrifos, a common pesticide, should be banned due to the dangers associated with it. …EPA’s decision to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos came last month, the result of a court-ordered deadline to regulate the pesticide prompted by a lawsuit previously filed by Earthjustice. In a statement to The Hill at the time, the EPA said the groups challenging the use of chlorpyrifos did not have enough data to demonstrate the product is not safe. The EPA said it would continue to review the safety of chlorpyrifos through 2022. A month after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began leading the department, the agency rejected an Obama-era recommendation from agency scientists to ban the pesticide.

The Learning Disabilities Association of America indicated its support for Earthjustice’s lawsuit, with Tracy Gregoire, a project coordinator at the organization, saying, according to The Hill, “A chlorpyrifos ban is long overdue given the overwhelming evidence that says this pesticide harms brain development in children. We are hopeful the courts will side with children who are now being exposed to irreparable, yet preventable harm.” Speaking on behalf of farmworkers alleging harm over exposure to chlorpyifos, Ramon Ramirez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, an Oregon-based farmworker group said, according to The Hill, “A nerve agent pesticide that poisons workers and damages children’s developing brain has no place near our fruits and vegetables. We look forward to seeing the courts do what EPA refuses to do, protect workers and children with a chlorpyrifos ban.”

As has been the case regarding multiple Trump administration decisions, some states believing the federal government is not meeting its obligations, in this case its obligation to protect human health, are creating their own laws to protect their citizens, as well as the consumers of their agricultural products in other states. Hawaii has banned the use of chlorpyrifos, and New York and California are considering following suit, with California indicating that research pointing to the threat to children’s brain development posed by chlorpyrifos obligated them to take action. Perhaps Earthjustice’s lawsuit will result in a national ban on the use of chlorpyrifos, but that could take some time to reach fruition.

UPDATE, 8/7/2019 @ 5:30PM CDT Six states together today have also filed a separate lawsuit over this same issue. According to The Hill, “Several states sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday over the agency’s decision to allow further use of a pesticide linked to brain damage. California, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland and Vermont argued in court documents that chlorpyrifos, a common pesticide, should be banned due to the dangers associated with it.”

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.