Two Years and 10 Million Pounds Since Trump EPA Blocked Ban of Brain-Damaging Pesticide

EWG: ‘If the administration had done the right thing, children and farmworkers wouldn’t be exposed today’
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For Immediate Release: 
Friday, March 29, 2019

WASHINGTON – On Thursday, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and a dozen of his fellow senators introduced legislation to ban chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that can harm children’s brains and nervous systems. But if the Trump administration had listened to Environmental Protection Agency scientists, the legislation wouldn’t be needed.

Two years ago today, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sided with the pesticide lobby over the agency’s scientists in an 11th-hour decision to abort a proposal to ban chlorpyrifos from use on food crops. If Pruitt had listened to his own scientists, the ban could have taken full effect last year, but now the EPA won’t reevaluate its safety until 2022.

Given the historical use data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the delay means that an estimated five million pounds of the weedkiller were sprayed on U.S. cropland last year, with the same amount expected this year.

“If the Trump administration had done the right thing two years ago, instead of what the chemical agriculture lobby wanted, we could have spared who knows how many children and farmworkers from exposure to this dangerous pesticide,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “In the long list of actions by Trump’s EPA that have endangered children’s health, this is the most egregious.”

On Dec. 6, 2016, just after Trump’s election, Dow Chemical, the maker of chlorpyrifos, donated $1 million to his inaugural committee.

A few days later, Andrew Liveris, then the CEO of Dow, appeared on stage with Trump at a rally. Liveris was later named chairman of the president’s now-defunct American Manufacturing Council.

On Jan. 17, 2017 – just days before Trump was sworn in ­– Dow filed a petition with EPA, urging the agency to reject the ban that had been proposed during the Obama administration.  

Two months later, the Washington State Farm Bureau lobbied Pruitt to cancel the ban. At the meeting, Pruitt announced “a new day, a new future” for agribusiness and its relationship with the Trump administration. On March 9, Pruitt met with Liveris in a Houston hotel. And on March 29, he announced his decision to cancel the proposed ban.

“This is what we now know is the modus operandi of Trump and his EPA: corruption couched as policy,” said Cook. “Trump and his political appointees at the agency show nearly every day that they are not there to protect Americans’ health but to cater to the whims of polluters. If you’re looking for evidence of corrupt collusion with sinister interests, here it is in plain view.”

Last August, a federal appeals court ruled that Pruitt’s decision violated federal law and ordered the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days. But Andrew Wheeler, who had taken over as acting EPA chief after Pruitt resigned in disgrace, refused to obey. The Justice Department filed a petition on behalf of the agency, calling on the court to overturn its earlier ruling and leave chlorpyrifos legal.   

Wheeler is now EPA administrator, and chlorpyrifos remains one of the most widely used pesticides in the U.S.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.