EPA Refuses to Ban Dangerous Pesticide Chlorpyrifos Linked to Brain Damage in Children

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The Environmental Protection Agency will not ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos—even though the agency’s own research shows that it can cause brain damage in children. The substance is sold under the commercial name Lorsban and is banned for household use. But it’s still used by farmers on more than 50 fruit, nuts, cereal and vegetable crops. The announcement came Thursday. The Obama administration said it would ban the use of the toxic chemical in 2015, but the rule never took effect. It was suspended in 2017 by then-EPA head Scott Pruitt. We go to Seattle to speak with Patti Goldman, a managing attorney at Earthjustice who represented health and labor advocates in a lawsuit against the EPA’s original decision in 2017.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we end today’s show with news that the Environmental Protection Agency says it will now not ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos, even though the agency’s own research shows it can cause brain damage in children. The substance is sold under the commercial name Lorsban and is banned for household use. But it’s still used by farmers on more than 50 fruit, nut, cereal and vegetable crops. The announcement Thursday came after the Obama administration said it would ban the use of the toxic chemical in 2015, but the rule never took effect and was suspended in 2017 by then-EPA head Scott Pruitt, who was forced out of his position because of corruption.

For more, we’re joined now in Seattle, Washington, by Patti Goldman, managing attorney at Earthjustice, who represented health and labor advocates in the lawsuit against the EPA’s original decision in 2017.

It’s great to have you back with us. Can you explain, Patti Goldman, what chlorpyrifos is, why you think it’s such a danger?

PATTI GOLDMAN: Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide that was developed first by the Nazis as a nerve agent. And then, after World War II, this pesticide was turned into a pesticide. Sarin gas is in this family. It causes acute poisoning for people if they come into contact with it.

And what we’ve learned over the last 15-plus years is that it also causes learning disabilities in children at even lower doses. So we’re talking about reduced IQ, autism, attention deficit disorder—every parent’s fears. And it causes that harm at extremely low doses. So, scientists have found this in numerous studies, including Columbia University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Berkeley.

And EPA has found, based on all of those studies and animal studies, that this pesticide causes brain damage to children, permanent brain damage. But it refuses to ban the pesticide. Instead, it wants to put it off and keep this pesticide on the market, on our food, in children’s bodies, until 2022, an artificial deadline for it to adjust all of the older pesticides.

AMY GOODMAN: We actually at this point only have a minute. Talk about what you’re demanding right now, why Earthjustice has gotten so involved with this.

PATTI GOLDMAN: Well, we’ve gotten involved because often EPA is under pressure from the regulated industry not to do its job. And we represent the voices that need to be heard—the public that will pressure the agency to do its job, health organizations, labor, farmworkers, food advocates.

And we live in a country, under the rule of law, where we can go to court and hold the EPA to the law, and the law which requires it to find a pesticide safe before it can be allowed on our food. EPA has not made that finding and cannot make that finding for this pesticide. The only legal action is for EPA to ban it. And that’s what we are going to make happen through the courts. It will happen. It’s just a question of how long it will take and how many children will suffer, how many families will suffer, from learning disabilities and acute poisonings in the meantime.

AMY GOODMAN: Patti Goldman, I want you to stay with us so we can do Part 2 to explain the history of this chemical pesticide. Patti Goldman, managing [attorney] at Earthjustice. That does it for our broadcast. I’m Amy Goodman. Our website, democracynow.org. Thanks so much for joining us.

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