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EPA questions science linking widely used pesticide to brain damage in children

EPA questions science linking widely used pesticide to brain damage in children
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday diminished studies linking a widely-used pesticide associated with brain damage in children, a move that could enable years of continued use of controversial chlorpyrifos.

In a Tuesday risk assessment released by the agency, the EPA argued that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”

Critics see it as the agency laying the groundwork to deny a petition filed by environmental groups years ago to ban the substance in the wake of a reversal under the Trump administration.

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In 2016, agency scientists recommended banning chlorpyrifos, citing the health effects on farmworkers and children.

Scientists worry that it affects the human nervous system much like it attacks those of insects.

“There are all these studies that have been done of kids showing that chlorpyrifos harms their brains especially as they're young or fetuses as they're developing. The very young are at much greater susceptibility than older people, and also more exposed,” said Erik Olsen with the Natural Resource Defense Council, one of the groups pursuing a ban.

The substance was banned for household use in 2000 after studies found children who had been exposed to it had lower IQs than those who were not. The pesticide has also been linked to learning and memory issues and prolonged nerve and muscle stimulation.

However, it is still used on a wide range of crops, including corn, soybeans and wheat and at orchards.

Tuesday’s risk assessment was spurred by litigation from environmental groups, and a judge ordered the EPA to make a decision on whether to ban it.

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“They kicked the decision back to scientists and said they're reanalyzing it so that's how they got around the courts telling them to decide whether to ban it or not,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The final decision from the agency will come later, but Donley said the risk assessment shows they are unlikely to ban the substance. He suspects the agency will instead offer to limit its uses, a measure he said would be insufficient.

“With how toxic it is you can’t mitigate the harm enough to make sure not really impacting people’s lives and health and the environment,” he said.

A number of states have banned chlorpyrifos in the absence of federal action. Democrats also introduced a bill to ban its use, though the legislation has not advanced.

Rachel Frazin contributed.