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Wednesday, 26 July 2017 06:26

Countering Trump's Pro-Pesticide Move, Democrats Push to Ban Chemical Harmful to Children and Bees

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epa33Democratic senators challenge EPA on the use of a toxic pesticide. (mccready)

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According to Earthjustice, a legal environmental advocacy group, eight Democratic senators introduced a bill yesterday to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurological damage in children:

Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA) , Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) unveiled a first-of-its-kind bill that would ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used agricultural pesticide that has been linked to reduced IQ and attention deficit disorder in children. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate which comes from the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas, is used on staple foods like strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli, and more.

The Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act, or S. 1624, amends the U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act--which oversees food safety--and prohibits all chlorpyrifos use in food. SB 1624 also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to partner with the National Research Council to assess the neurodevelopmental effects and other low-dose impacts that exposure to organophosphate pesticides has on agricultural workers and children. In addition to calling for a ban on chlorpyrifos, the bill educates the public about the history of this nerve agent pesticide and the communities that are in harms' way.

As recently reported in Energydesk, neonicotinoid pesticides -- of which chlorpyrifos is one -- can also cause harm to bees, including negatively impacting the reproductive capacity of three bee species.

The legislative proposal is meant to counteract a Trump administration EPA action to scrap Obama administration plans to ban the agricultural use of chlorpyrifos in the United States. The Senate bill comes on the tail of some states legally challenging the action by EPA Director Scoot Pruitt, as detailed in a June 8 Truthout article:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing a challenge from seven states over his decision to ditch an EPA proposal that would have prevented a pesticide linked to brain damage in children from contaminating the food supply.

On Tuesday, a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general filed an administrative challenge to Pruitt's March 27 order denying a decade-old petition to ban chlorpyrifos, a controversial bug killer used to control pests on food crops such as apples, strawberries and oranges, as well as at facilities such as golf courses.

The order quashed an agency proposal rolled out under the Obama administration to ban chlorpyrifos on food products due to health risks. Pruitt issued the order at the last minute to meet a court-ordered deadline requiring the EPA to make a final decision on the ban after years of review. 

The Truthout article notes that 140,000 people submitted "public comments opposing Pruitt's decision to keep chlorpyrifos on the market before the comment period closed this week."

A letter by Douglas Goldsmith, Ph.D., published today in the Salt Lake Tribune, provides an example of the viewpoint of those who are concerned about continued use of the chemical:

The recent decision by Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, to reverse a ban on chlorpyrifos should alarm every family in our state. The state of Utah has the third highest rate of children with autism in the country with estimates of 1 in 54 births resulting in a child with an autism diagnosis.

This toxic pesticide has been shown to have detrimental effects on the neurological development of infants and young children. Studies have shown that children exposed during pregnancy are five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism and six times more likely to have ADHD symptoms. The chemical was banned by the Obama administration but, following a meeting with officials from the DOW chemical company, Pruitt reversed the ban.

In an April article, The Associated Press noted,

Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close advisor to President Trump. The company wrote a $1-million check to help underwrite Trump's inaugural festivities.

The Associated Press also reported that Pruitt's decision came after Dow lobbied the EPA. Meanwhile, EPA findings show that the chemical is harmful to a wide range of endangered species:

Over the last four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages showing the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied....

Dow has been selling Chlorpyrifos for spraying on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops since the 1960s. It is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with Dow selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year.

The bill cosponsored by the eight Democratic senators offers a counterbalance to Trump's pro-industry EPA, which has been rescinding regulations that protect people and the environment.

In addition to his numerous corporate influences, perhaps Scott Pruitt is spending too much time away from Washington, DC to make decisions based on research and not on chemical industry lobbying. A July 23 Reuters headline declares, "EPA Chief Spent Almost Half of Spring in Home State of Oklahoma":

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, was in his home state of Oklahoma on at least 43 of the 92 days of March, April and May, according to copies of his travel records obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project watchdog group and reviewed by Reuters. Pruitt’s frequent visits to Oklahoma have raised concerns among critics that he is cultivating political relationships in the state at taxpayer expense, instead of focusing on his job as head of the environmental regulator.

Maybe the Senate legislation will capture Pruitt's attention when he swings by Washington, DC sometime.