Federal Court Demands Decision on Toxic Pesticide

Court cites EPA’s own findings on health dangers of chlorpyrifos to push agency to act


Veena Singla, NRDC, (415) 875-6126

Paul Towers, PAN, (916) 216-1082

Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice, (206) 930-6660

Calling EPA’s delay in regulating the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos “egregious,” the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered EPA to respond to a petition to ban the pesticide by October 31, 2015. The Court issued the opinion and order in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Chlorpyrifos is a widely used agricultural insecticide whose dangers have been studied for many years. The Court found that “EPA’s ambiguous plan to possibly issue a proposed rule nearly nine years after receiving the administrative petition is too little, too late.” The Court further scolded the agency for producing only “a roadmap for further delay.”

The Court pointed to the years of delay associated with the petition to ban chlorpyrifos, EPA’s repeatedly broken promises of action, and new admissions from EPA itself that chlorpyrifos is unsafe for farm workers, their families, and rural communities:

Another factor that has moved the needle is the threat posed by chlorpyrifos to human health. … [I]in its latest status report, EPA reported that chlorpyrifos poses such a significant threat to water supplies that a nationwide ban on the pesticide may be justified. We do not take this representation lightly. Yet EPA offers no acceptable justification for the considerable human health interests prejudiced by the delay.

“Enough is enough,” said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles. “Every year, farmworkers and families in rural communities are exposed to chlorpyrifos, and EPA has dragged its feet too long on the issue of basic human health protection.”

Fourteen years ago, EPA banned the residential use of chlorpyrifos because of harm to children exposed in their homes. In 2007, PAN and NRDC filed a petition asking EPA to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos to give the same protection to rural children exposed through pesticide drift. PAN and NRDC provided scientific evidence about the need to protect children from reduced IQ, developmental delays, loss of working memory, and other neurological damage caused by early childhood exposures.

“EPA’s own review confirmed that chlorpyrifos harms children’s brains at extremely low doses, that chlorpyrifos poses unacceptable risks to farmworkers, and that chlorpyrifos already contaminates drinking water at levels that are harmful to children,” said Dr. Veena Singla, PhD, staff scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council.  “The Court ruling today recognizes the seriousness of these threats to human health.”

EPA had already taken a tentative step toward further regulating the pesticide, including a July 1, 2015 announcement of its consideration of a chlorpyrifos ban. However, when pressed by the appellate court for a firm deadline, EPA would not commit to a schedule for any particular action.

“EPA can’t kick the can down the road any longer. EPA already acknowledges threats of chlorpyrifos to farmworkers and rural families, yet the agency has failed to act. Today’s decision should result in meaningful protections for communities from this brain-harming pesticide,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, PhD, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network.

A plane sprays pesticide over a farm.
(Denton Rumsey/Shutterstock)
A plane sprays pesticide over a farm. (Denton Rumsey / Shutterstock)

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