BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – The Environmental Protection Agency is appealing a federal court ruling ordering the agency to ban a popular pesticide manufactured by an Indianapolis-based company linked to brain damage in children within 60 days.
The EPA’s Office of the General Counsel and the Department of Justice are asking all 22 judges of the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to rehear the case and overturn the 3-judge panel’s decision.
Federal attorneys argue that the court went against Supreme Court precedent and the procedures for the involuntary cancellation of a registration established in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
“The important thing here is that courts are not supposed to operate this way,” said EPA Spokesperson Michael Abboud in statement to the Indiana Environmental Reporter. “They play an important role, but only after the administrative record is fully laid out. This opinion nullifies the FIFRA process, violating a congressionally mandated statute. EPA takes science and health issues very seriously, but we must work within the legal process established by Congress.”
In August, the 3-judge panel voted 2 to 1 to force the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. The one dissenting judge, Ferdinand Fernandez, similarly argued that the court’s order did not fall under its jurisdiction.
In 1998, the EPA banned chlorpyrifos for use in residential areas and ordered a full reassessment of the pesticide, leading to a decision to reduce or revoke chlorpyrifos tolerance levels for certain crops due to “acute dietary risks” for infants, children and nursing women.
Fourteen years later, researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University and other research centers found that chlorpyrifos exposure caused changes in the brain that resulted in cognitive deficits at levels below what the EPA considered “toxic.”
The pesticide is still permitted for use in food crops, golf courses, parks, and highway medians. Chlorpyrifos can be carried by the wind, exposing people near the application site. People can also experience low-level exposure by eating fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed.
Indianapolis-based Corteva Agriscience is the nation’s main manufacturer of chlorpyrifos-based pesticides. The company says it agrees with the effort to appeal the decision.
“We believe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) petition for rehearing of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in this case is justified,” the company said in a statement to the Indiana Environmental Reporter. “Chlorpyrifos is a critical pest management tool used by growers around the world to manage a large number of pests that can destroy crops, and regulatory bodies in 79 countries have reviewed the science, carefully evaluated the product and its significant benefits and continued to approve its use. We will continue to support the growers who need this important product.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also backs the appeal. The USDA argues that chlorpyrifos helps farmers and consumers by improving production efficiency and contributing to public health and safety.
“The costs of an incorrect decision on chlorpyrifos are expected to be high and would cause serious impacts to American farmers working to feed, fuel, and clothe the United States and the world,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “This ruling, which would mean the sudden and total loss of chlorpyrifos, prevents farmers from using an effective and economical crop protection tool.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., an international environmental advocacy group that was one of many organizations that brought forth the original lawsuit says the Trump administration is putting the needs of corporations above the health of people across the country.
“The Trump administration is shameless in its refusal to ban this dangerous chemical that is poisoning our children’s brains,” said Erik Olson, Senior Director of Health and Food at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. “Science, the law and EPA’s own staff have all made it clear this toxic stuff does not belong on our food or in our fields, yet this administration is still going to bat for the billion-dollar chemical industry.”
Earthjustice, a group dedicated to litigating environmental issues, represented various groups involved in the chlorpyrifos lawsuit says the appeal will allow more people to get harmed.
“Trump’s EPA is delaying the inevitable and putting people in harm’s way,” said Earthjustice managing attorney Patti Goldman. “By keeping this unsafe pesticide in our food and drinking water, EPA is violating the law. Every day we go without a ban, children and farmworkers are needlessly eating, drinking and breathing this dreadful pesticide.”