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Health and Labor Groups Sue Trump EPA for Refusal to Ban Pesticide Linked to Brain Damage in Children

"Farmworkers, families, and developing children must be safe from chlorpyrifos."

child eats corn

The Environmental Protection Agency ended household use of chlorpyrifos in 2000 but still allowed famers to use it on crops, including corn. (Photo: Pixabay)

A coalition of health and labor organizations sued the Trump administration on Wednesday over the Environmental Protection Agency's refusal last month to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide tied to brain damage in children.

"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."
—Dr. Elena Rios, National Hispanic Medical Association

Represented by nonprofit environmental legal firm Earthjustice, the 11 groups filed a petition for review (pdf) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, challenging EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler's July decision to reject the call from environmental groups for a ban on the pesticide.

Critics accused both Wheeler and the federal agency of prioritizing corporate profits of public health—a sentiment that was echoed Wednesday by the groups behind the case.

"The scientific evidence has been clear for years. Chlorpyrifos is toxic to farmworkers and linked to irreversible neurodevelopmental harms in children," Dr. Elena Rios, president of the National Hispanic Medical Association, said in a statement. "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."

In 2000, the EPA ended household use of chlorpyrifos over safety concerns but allowed farmers to keep using it on crops, from brussels sprouts and broccoli to cauliflower, cherries, and corn. For more than a decade, environmental groups have been fighting for a full federal ban. Wheeler's July announcement—which critics say contradicts assessments from his agency's scientists—came after a federal court, in April, ordered the administration to quickly make a decision.

"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," 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."

Earthjustice filed the suit Wednesday on behalf of the Pesticide Action Network North America, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 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.

Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network—one of the plaintiffs in the original 2007 court case demanding a ban—said Wednesday that "it's absurd that we have to ask the court to force EPA to do its job."

"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," added Schafer, referencing the pesticide's primary manufacturer.

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Earthjustice detailed the company's advocacy against a ban and its ties to President Donald Trump in its statement Wednesday:

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.

"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."

Calling on the court to "side with children over a powerful chemical industry with friends in high places," NRDC senior scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman concluded that "chlorpyrifos does not belong on our food or in our fields."

A second suit (pdf) challenging the EPA's decision was filed in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday by the state attorneys general of California, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and Vermont. The attorneys general of Hawaii and the District of Columbia are expected to join the case, which was spearheaded by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

In a statement, James accused the Trump administration of ignorining "both the science and law." She added that "if the Trump EPA won't do its job and protect the health and safety of New Yorkers, my office will take them to court and force them to fulfill their responsibilities."

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