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Senators seek to ban brain-damaging pesticide the EPA wants to keep legal

Chlorpyrifos is a known neurotoxin, in the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, shown to cause brain damage in kids
Chlorpyrifos Banned Insecticides
Photo: Getty Images

An attempt to ban a pesticide known to cause brain damage in children was denied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but a group of Democratic senators hope to change with a new bill.

The bill, introduced by New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, seeks to outlaw chlorpyrifos, an agricultural insecticide used on strawberries, apples and broccoli, among other fruits and vegetables. The chemical is classified as a neurotoxin by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and listed in the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, but the EPA denied a petition to ban it on March 29. On July 18, Federal appeals court rejected a petition by environmental groups to force the agency into a ban.

The Protect Children, Farmers and Farmworkers From Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017 was co-sponsored by senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Kamala Harris of California, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

The danger of chlorpyrifos

Three long-term studies found that chlorpyrifos has the potential to cause significant brain damage in both fetuses and children by “interrupting the electrochemical processes that nerves use to communicate with muscles and other nerves,” according to the Pesticide Encyclopedia. It’s also an endocrine disruptor that has the potential to create “adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

“No family should be facing a life of special needs because of chlorpyrifos," supporters of the bill said in a statement, according to EcoWatch. "If the EPA refuses to protect the health of our children and agricultural workers, then lawmakers from both sides of the aisle must do their job and back the chlorpyrifos ban bill. The health of our communities depends on it."

The EPA said more study into science around chlorpyrifos is needed and will revisit a possible ban in 2022.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” EPA director Scott Pruitt said in a written statement after the reversal. Both Pruitt and President Trump have vowed to roll back environmental regulations that affect business growth.

“By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results,” he added.

Chlorpyrifos is produced by several companies, including Dow Chemical. The company praised the appeals court decision to keep the chemical legal.

“Current regulatory safety standard for chlorpyrifos rests on five decades of experience in use, health surveillance of manufacturing workers and applicators, and more than 4,000 studies and reports examining the product in terms of health, safety and the environment,” a Dow spokesman said in a statement.

“Authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products, when used as directed, offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety.”

 
 
 
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