The Trump administration endangered public health by keeping the extensively used pesticide chlorpyrifos on the market, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. Despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause serious harm to brains of babies, the pesticide is being used predominantly.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.
Chlorpyrifos is widely spread on citrus fruits, apples and other crops. Last year, ex-EPA Chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos which angered the farmers and environmentalists. A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued after reversal. The attorneys general for several states, including California, New York and Massachusetts, joined the case against EPA.
In a split decision, the court said on Thursday that Pruitt — a Republican forced to resign earlier this summer amid ethics scandals — violated federal law by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful.
“The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children,” Appeals Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the majority’s opinion.
According to the EPA spokesperson Michael Abboud, the agency was reviewing the decision and could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
‘A triumph for parents’
Environmental groups and public health advocates consider the court’s action as a major success.
“Some things are too sacred to play politics with, and our kids top the list,” said Erik Olson, senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defence Council. “The court has made it clear that children’s health must come before powerful polluters. This is a victory for parents everywhere who want to feed their kids fruits and veggies without fear it’s harming their brains or poisoning communities.”
Dow Chemical Co. created Chlorpyrifos in the 1960s. It is still amongst the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the U.S., with the chemical giant selling around five million pounds domestically every year through its subsidiary Dow AgroSciences.
Belonging to a family of organophosphate pesticides that are chemically similar to a chemical warfare agent developed by Nazi Germany before the Second World War, traces of chlorpyrifos can be found in sources of drinking water.