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EPA allows continued use of pesticide linked with brain damage
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not halt a pesticide linked with brain damage from being sprayed on crops, the agency said Thursday in response to a lawsuit.
Chlorpyrifos, known on the market as Lorsban, is used on a wide variety of crops, including corn and cranberries, and farmers often call it a last line of defense against certain insects.
A federal appeals court in April gave the EPA 90 days to decide how to deal with the pesticide.
Environmental groups have long contended it's dangerous and have spent years suing the EPA to end its agricultural use. Studies have linked chlorpyrifos to learning and memory issues and prolonged nerve and muscle stimulation.
In a statement to The Hill, the EPA said the groups challenging chlorpyrifos's use did not have enough data to demonstrate the product is not safe. The EPA said it would continue to review the safety of chlorpyrifos through 2022.
Chlorpyrifos has already been banned for household use and seemed on track to be phased out more broadly, but that shifted under the Trump administration.
A month after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt began leading the department, the agency rejected an Obama-era recommendation from agency scientists to ban the widely used pesticide.
In the absence of EPA action, some states have moved to regulate chlorpyrifos on their own. Hawaii in 2018 banned the use of the pesticide across the state. California and New York are considering a similar move.
California, the nation's top agricultural state, said it was obligated to take action due to research showing chlorpyrifos hinders brain development in children.
Farmers and other groups have urged the EPA to keep chlorpyrifos available.
"Without the ability to use chlorpyrifos, entire production fields could be lost," the American Seed Trade Association wrote in a letter to the agency in 2017.
In April, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), one of the Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination, introduced a bill to restrict schools from serving meals that include fruits and vegetables sprayed with chlorpyrifos.
"As a mother of two young sons, it's alarming that the food in school meals could contain even a trace of a chemical that could harm students' development and ability to learn," Gillibrand, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement at the time.
Environmental groups knocked the agency's decision Thursday.
"By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump's EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children's brains," said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice. "It is a tragedy that this administration sides with corporations instead of children's health."
The organizations that originally brought the challenge to EPA on the rule said they will continue to fight the decision.
"Every day we go without a ban, children and farm workers are eating, drinking and breathing a pesticide linked to intellectual and learning disabilities and poisonings," said the 12 plaintiff organizations that challenged the 2017 decision.
"We will continue to fight until chlorpyrifos is banned and children and farm workers are safe from this dangerous chemical."