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'Major Victory for Public Health': Court Orders Trump EPA to Ban Pesticide That Harms Kids' Brains

"Children, farmworkers, rural families, and science are all huge winners today... EPA's job is to protect public health, not industry profits."

ban pesticide sign

Earlier this year, semonstrators at the Hawaii Capitol to urge the state Senate to vote in favor of a bill to phase out the widely used agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos, which studies show can harm children's brains. (Photo: Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

In a "major victory for public health," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Thursday ruled the Trump administration illegally blocked a ban on chlorpyrifos—a pesticide linked to brain development delays in children and nervous systems issues for all people and animals exposed to it—and ordered that it be outlawed within 60 days.

"Allowing the use of this toxic chemical is not only irresponsible, it is a crime."
—Hector Sanchez Barba, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

"Children, farmworkers, rural families, and science are all huge winners today," responded Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) North America. "The court affirmed that EPA's job is to protect public health, not industry profits."

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed household use of the chemical in 2000, citing concerns about children's health, it has resisted a ban to stop farmers from spraying chlorpyrifos on crops—which PAN and other pesticide critics have demanded for more than a decade.

"Some things are too sacred to play politics with—and our kids top the list," asserted Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The court has made it clear that children's health must come before powerful polluters."

"Our agricultural fields should be a source of life, not sickness," declared Labor Council for Latin American Advancement executive director Hector Sanchez Barba. "Allowing the use of this toxic chemical is not only irresponsible, it is a crime."

"Some things are too sacred to play politics with—and our kids top the list."
—Erik Olson, Natural Resources Defense Council

"The people who feed us deserve a safe and healthy workplace," added Erik Nicholson, national vice president of United Farm Workers of America. "The EPA has put the women and men who harvest the food we eat every day in harm's way too long."

Ruling 2-1 in favor of the advocacy groups and state attorneys general who filed suit against the EPA, the panel reprimanded the agency for neglecting its responsibility to the public by stalling the agricultural ban.

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Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in the opinion (pdf), "The time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion." He also slammed the EPA for its "utter failure" to respond to objections after President Donald Trump's disgraced former agency chief Scott Pruitt thwarted a decade-long effort to outlaw chlorpyrifos, ignoring research from EPA scientists.

It was later revealed that mere weeks before Pruitt delayed the agency's planned ban on chlorpyrifos in March of 2017, he met with the CEO of Dow Chemical, which has been selling the pesticide since the 1960s and has lobbied against restrictions.

"For years corporations like Dow were able to hijack our government to put profit before people."
—Sindy Benavides, 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," concluded Sindy Benavides, chief executive officer at the League of United Latin American Citizens.

"Sadly, under this administration," remarked PAN's Shafer, "it takes judges to force our public agencies to stand up to corporate interests and do their jobs."

The victory on Thursday comes a few months after the Hawaii legislature approved the nation's first state-wide ban on chlorpyrifos, a move that was also widely celebrated by public health experts and advocates. The measure was signed into law by Democratic Gov. David Ige in June.

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