EPA’s decision several months ago to deny a petition to revoke all food tolerances for the pesticide chlorpyrifos (April 5, 2017, FR) is back in the news following reports that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with the CEO of Dow Chemical 3 weeks before the order was issued. (Under the Food Quality Protection Act, a tolerance is the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that is allowed on food.) Dow’s subsidiary, Dow AgroScience, manufactures chlorpyrifos. Also, on June 27, 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sent Pruitt a letter referencing scientific studies that describe a range of detrimental health effects to developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food and asking the administrator to revoke all food tolerances for the chemical.
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide that has been in use since the 1960s. The chemical initially had residential uses, but in 2000, chlorpyrifos registrants reached an agreement with the EPA to voluntarily cancel all residential-use products except those registered for ant and roach baits in child-resistant packaging and fire ant mound treatments. Chlorpyrifos is now applied to about 50 food crops, including, apples, oranges, and strawberries. Dow sells about 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos domestically each year.
Courts ordered action
In 2007, environmental groups petitioned the EPA to revoke all remaining tolerances for chlorpyrifos. After years of nonresponse from the EPA, the petitioners went to court. In August 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ordered the EPA to respond by either denying the petition or issuing a proposed or final rule revoking chlorpyrifos tolerances. In November 2015, pursuant to the court’s order, the EPA proposed to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances based in part on uncertainty surrounding the potential for chlorpyrifos to cause neurodevelopmental effects. In August 2016, the 9th Circuit ordered the EPA to complete a final petition response—again, either deny or grant it—by March 31, 2017. Pruitt announced that the petition had been denied 2 days before the deadline.
“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said Pruitt. “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.”
Even though it denied the petition, the EPA says it will continue to study the impact of chlorpyrifos on human health as part of the substance’s regular registration review. By law, that review must be completed by October 1, 2022.
According to the Associated Press, several Freedom of Information Act requests succeeded in obtaining Pruitt’s schedule for March. The released schedule shows that Pruitt met with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris for about a half hour on March 9, 20 days before their face-to-face meeting. An EPA spokesperson later said that Pruitt and Liveris did not discuss chlorpyrifos.
Request from pediatricians
The AAP describes itself as “a nonprofit professional organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical specialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.”
“We are writing to express concern at the agency’s recent reversal on its proposal to revoke tolerances for chlorpyrifos,” the AAP states in its letter, which was cosigned by the Environmental Working Group. “In particular, we are deeply alarmed that the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos contradicts the agency’s own science and puts developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women at risk.”
The letter cites several scientific studies, including research by Columbia University; the University of California, Berkeley; and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. These bodies reported that chronic chlorpyrifos exposure in utero is associated with changes in social behavior, brain development, and developmental delays; that children born before the residential ban took effect tended to be smaller, have poorer reflexes, and weigh less; and that toddlers who had higher exposures were behind in both motor and mental development by the age of 3. They were also greater than 5 times more likely to be on the autism spectrum, greater than 6 times more likely to have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-type symptoms, and greater than 11 times more likely to have symptoms of other attention disorders.
The letter also states that the decision not to ban chlorpyrifos tolerances contradicts EPA’s own science, which formed the basis for the Agency’s November 2015 proposal. The letter notes that in November 2016, the EPA did another risk assessment using a more sensitive point of departure, determining the risks were even greater than previously thought and reiterating the need to revoke tolerances.
“As a result, EPA has no basis to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, and its insistence in doing so puts all children at risk,” the letter states.