WASHINGTON – A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences warns that the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos can severely harm children’s developing brains. But in March, in one of his first decisions as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt cancelled an expected ban of chlorpyrifos with no scientific basis for his decision.
The sweeping report chronicles the toll of pesticides, industrial chemicals and air pollution on the health of America’s children. It summarizes the results of a 20-year effort by the two federal agencies, which have invested $300 million on dozens of long-term studies of American children. The research links everyday exposures to bisphenol A, flame retardants and pesticides with asthma, cancer, and brain and behavioral problems. It estimates the cost of environmentally related diseases in children at $76 billion a year.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
These findings are a striking difference from the direction of the EPA under the Trump administration.
Pruitt was in office for only weeks before he aborted a scheduled ban on chlorpyrifos, one of the most widely used pesticides in the U.S. Based on the results of three federally funded observational studies, the EPA was expected to phase out all remaining uses of the pesticide due to evidence that it caused long-term learning problems and IQ loss in children.
To run the EPA’s office of chemical safety, Trump nominated Michael Dourson, whose science-for-hire consulting firm has a long history of helping industry’s efforts to weaken health protections for a number of dangerous chemicals. The nomination has been met with widespread opposition and concern by public interest and public health advocates. In a highly unorthodox move, Pruitt installed Dourson at the EPA before the Senate had a chance to vote on his confirmation.
If Dourson is eventually confirmed, he will join another notorious political appointee, Nancy Beck, who came to the EPA from the American Chemistry Council, the leading lobby and trade group for the chemical industry. The New York Times recently published an exhaustive exposé on Beck’s role at the EPA and her career of downplaying the risks of chemicals on human health.
“This report is exactly what American taxpayers should expect from the country’s top public health protection agencies and the professional scientists they fund,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Sadly, that’s not what we’re getting from Pruitt and his team.”
“We hold out hope that the report will inform future decisions when Pruitt and other political appointees at EPA must choose between children’s environmental health and the craven, profit-fueled demands of the chemical industry or the pesticide manufacturers.”
The report found that children exposed to higher levels of chlorpyrifos before birth “displayed adverse cognitive and behavioral outcomes compared to children exposed to lower levels.” It said children with higher exposures score significantly lower on IQ, memory and development tests.
“Exposure to chemicals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and pesticides can have negative effects on brain development, leading to cognitive delay, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), lower IQ, higher rates of anxiety and depression, behavior and learning disorders, reduced self-regulatory capacities, and shortened attention span,” the report said. “Currently, neurodevelopmental disorders affect 10 to 15 percent of children born annually.”