Three environmental groups have asked a federal appeals court to force the EPA to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, one week after the agency denied a petition to do so.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced March 30 that the agency had denied a petition filed by environmental groups to ban the pesticide outright, saying in a statement that farmers need chlorpyrifos and an agency that relies on “sound science” when making decisions.
That move was a surprising reversal from the stance of the EPA under the past administration, which had indicated as recently as fall 2016 that it was prepared to issue a full ban on the pesticide. Chlorpyrifos is the main ingredient in Dow AgroSciences’ Lorsban insecticide targeting pests such as soybean aphids, spider mites and corn rootworm.
On April 4, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) — some of the same groups behind the initial proposal to ban chlorpyrifos — filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The appeal argued that the agency did not actually issue the decision originally required by the court.
“EPA’s response, however, did not make a final determination as to whether chlorpyrifos food tolerances must be revoked,” the groups said in their complaint.
“Instead, EPA decided that it preferred to engage in further study of the neuro-developmental harm to children from chlorpyrifos before finalizing the October 2015 proposed revocation rule or taking an alternative regulatory path. PAN/NRDC seek further relief from this court because EPA’s response to the petition is no response at all and certainly not what this court ordered EPA to do by March 31, 2017.”
In a March 30 news release, the EPA had stated that USDA “disagrees with the methodology” used by the previous administration’s EPA and added that: “Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on, and misapplication of, studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal [to ban chlorpyrifos].”
Patti Goldman, Earthjustice managing attorney, said in a statement the groups’ action is about protecting children.
“President Trump and his EPA flouted court orders and EPA’s scientific findings that chlorpyrifos puts children, farmworkers, their families and many others at risk,” she said. “We are asking the court to protect children by ordering EPA to take action now to ban chlorpyrifos.”
Erik Nicholson, vice president of United Farm Workers, said the agency needs to consider safety.
“The EPA said repeatedly that this pesticide is not safe,” he said in a statement. “It is long past time for EPA to permanently ban all uses of chlorpyrifos, stop caving in to corporate interests, and focus on the well-being of workers and their children who live in areas surrounded by pesticides.”
Agricultural groups had expressed concern over the proposed ban, arguing that doing away with chlorpyrifos could complicate the battle against insects, especially when growers are being encouraged to rotate chemistries to guard against insect resistance. A number of industry groups, such as CropLife America, the National Corn Growers Association, and the American Soybean Association celebrated the March 30 EPA decision not to revoke the pesticide, which plays a significant role in corn and soybean pest control.
Corn accounts for chlorpyrifos’ largest agriculture market as far as total pounds used because, overall, there are more corn acres than soybean acres, according to EPA. However, in recent years, use of chlorpyrifos has expanded in soybeans and has been on the decline in corn.
According to Dow AgroSciences’ website, chlorpyrifos use in soybeans expanded from about 200,000 acres in 2004 to about 8 million acres in 2008. Dow estimated chlorpyrifos was applied to about 11% of soybean acres planted in 2008.