Dow Pesticide Decision Came ‘Down to the Wire,’ Emails Show

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By Tiffany Stecker

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made the decision to keep a neurotoxic pesticide on the market in a relatively short time frame, internal agency emails show.

Pruitt had not been briefed by agency staff on chlorpyrifos as of nine days before a draft order to keep the pesticide legal began to circulate, according to the emails. Pruitt’s March 29 order denied a 10-year-old petition from environmental groups to end the use of chlorpyrifos, a widely used insecticide linked to cognitive delays in children.

The emails also show the EPA decided to keep the pesticide legal weeks before Pruitt officially signed the order to do so.

Denying the longtime petition on the pesticide triggered an outcry from environmental groups and support from agricultural interests.

The Environmental Protection Agency made public more than 700 pages of heavily redacted correspondence Aug. 17 under the Freedom of Information Act in the agency’s first response to a flood of requests from nonprofit organizations and media outlets. They were seeking details on the denied chlorpyrifos ban, a move that contradicted the EPA’s recommendations under President Barack Obama. The agency is expected to released more documents to comply with the FOIA requests.

“Providing regulatory certainty to the thousands of farmers that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment is critical,” Amy Graham, EPA spokesperson, told Bloomberg BNA in an email. “We continue to examine the science surrounding chlorpyrifos while taking into account USDA’s scientific concerns with the methodology used by the previous Administration.”

‘We Are Down to The Wire’

In early March, EPA staff began expressing concerns that the agency wouldn’t meet a looming court deadline to act on the 2007 petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network to revoke the legal tolerances of the pesticide on food.

“I am very concerned that we are down to the wire,” Sarah Rees, director of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Policy and Management told Office of Policy associate administrator Samantha Dravis in a March 1 email.

Dravis, then a recent hire to Pruitt’s coterie of advisers, asked for a briefing the following day.

It was still unclear by March 7 whether the EPA would meet the March 31 legal deadline for the decision. The agency’s lawyers were ready to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to extend the cutoff date to either accept or reject the petition.

But Pruitt had yet to hear from staff about the issue by March 7.

“It hasn’t gotten on his calendar as far as I can tell,” Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, acting chemicals chief, told Dravis. Nine days later, Cleland-Hamnett sent a draft denial of the petition.

Turnaround is “Absurdly Short”

Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney with the Environmental Working Group, called the turnaround for a chlorpyrifos decision “absurdly short” for such an important decision.

“What is clear from these documents is that Administrator Pruitt’s abrupt action to vacate the ban on chlorpyrifos was an ideological, not a health-based decision,” Benesh told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

Chlorpyrifos was first registered as a pesticide in 1965 and developed by Dow Chemical Co. more than 70 years ago. It is widely used on corn, soybeans, fruits and vegetables, and on golf courses. The pesticide works by suppressing an enzyme that is essential for nerve function. Exposure in humans can lead to headaches, dizziness, and in some cases convulsions and death.

Several long-term population studies have also linked low exposure of chlorpyrifos to neurological delays in children who came in contact with the pesticide, or whose mothers were exposed while pregnant. Dow and the pesticide industry have rejected these studies as scientifically weak. In denying the petition, the EPA will have to decide how to regulate the insecticide by 2022 when the current registration on chlooriphyros expires.

Dow Agrosciences was not immediately available to comment to Bloomberg BNA on the emails.

EWG and the nonprofit American Oversight sued the EPA in June to compel the release of communications between Pruitt and agricultural interests relating to the order.

“American Oversight will continue to fight in court to combat Scott Pruitt’s penchant for secrecy, including on pesticides,” the organization’s executive director Austin Evers said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at

For More Information

The emails are available here:

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