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The EPA has reversed course in its effort to restrict a widely used, insect-controlling pesticide, backpedaling on one of the Obama administration’s key initiatives to lower pesticide exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency will deny a decade-old petition from environmental groups to revoke all uses, called “tolerances,” of chlorpyrifos on food, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced March 29. The insecticide is an important crop protection tool for fruit, vegetable and row crop growers. “We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said in a statement. “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.”The agency released its decision two days before a court-ordered deadline to act on the 2007 petition from the Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Department of Justice is expected to file its response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by the end of the week.
The farm and landscaping insecticide was developed by Dow AgroSciences and first registered by the EPA in 1965. Environmentalists have sought to end use of the chemical, which they say has been linked to neurodevelopmental delays in children, for decades.
In denying the petition, the EPA said it disagreed with the methodology used by the previous administration to justify what amounts to a near-ban of the chemical. The agency issued a proposed rule to revoke the tolerances in 2015, using its authority in the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act. The agency based part of its scientific justification for doing so on epidemiological studies that measured levels of the chemical in exposed women and children.
Under former Administrator Gina McCarthy—President Obama’s second nominee to run the agency—the EPA worked to solidify the scientific justification for revoking the tolerances, including a human health risk assessment that relied in part on a controversial epidemiological study from Columbia University on children’s health effects.
Epidemiologists say these population studies record changes in learning and behavior that can’t be traced in the rodent experiments that historically serve as the basis for the EPA’s pesticide regulations. But the chemical industry argues that epidemiological studies are difficult to control, and adverse outcomes can be attributed to a range of diet, lifestyle and other environmental factors.
Dow criticized the EPA for relying specifically on an epidemiological study from Columbia University that found that chlorpyrifos affected brain development in New York City children exposed in utero. The study’s data was kept confidential by the university, prompting Dow and other industry groups to ask the EPA not to rely on the observations.
The company swiftly applauded the EPA decision.
“Dow AgroSciences remains confident that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety,” spokesman David Sousa said in a statement.
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