EPA denies petition to ban pesticide used on crops

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The Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, Scott Pruitt, at his first address to the agency.AP Photo/Susan WalshThe Environmental Protection Agency has rejected a bid by environmental groups to ban a common pesticide used on citrus fruits, apples, cherries, and other crops. The bill would ensure EPA regulations are based on the best publicly available science and enable independent scientists to review and validate the EPA's decisions.

Chlorpyrifos is used as an insecticide against plant pests of numerous crops, including some meant for human consumption.

More than a decade ago, the EPA banned the spraying of chlorpyrifos indoors to get rid of household bugs. The move to reverse its earlier decision - which was made during the Obama administration - is a sign of change in the agency's approach to toxic chemicals under the new EPA head, Scott Pruitt.

Environmental groups say the "unconscionable" decision ignores overwhelming evidence that even small amounts of chlorpyrifos can damage parts of the brain.

CHARLES: These groups went to court demanding that the EPA take another look.

The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. In 2007, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America filed a petition to have chlorpyrifos banned all together.

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This decision by EPA under the Trump Administration to deny the petition is not surprising, given the rhetoric of reducing regulatory burdens and the need to stop regulatory "overreach" by agencies like EPA which has been accused of making politically driven decisions. EPA plans to continue evaluating the risks of chlorpyrifos over the next five years.

EPA's news release said public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. The October 2015 proposal largely relied on certain epidemiological study outcomes, whose application is novel, to reach its conclusions.

Pruitt's announcement follows a January letter from Dow Chemical Co., which sells chlorpyrifos under the brand name Lorsban, accusing the EPA of short-circuiting the scientific review of the chemical to the detriment of the company and the American farmers that use it.

The EPA's recently updated page on the health risks of chlorpyrifos still concedes that evidence suggests residue of the pesticide could exceed the levels the law allows to remain on food.

Dow Chemical, which makes chlorpyrifos, has long maintained the chemical's safety (and maintains a website, chlorpyrifos.com, where it questions the integrity of academic research and promotes the chemical as safe).