A federal appeals court on Thursday said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must ban a pesticide linked to developmental issues in children within 60 days unless it can find a safe use for the chemical.
The 9th Circuit ruled that the evidence compiled by the EPA fails to show that the substance chlorpyrifos is not harmful. Studies have linked exposure to chlorpyrifos to lower IQ, impaired working memory and negative impacts on motor development.
“The EPA has spent more than a decade assembling a record of chlorpyrifos’s ill effects and has repeatedly determined, based on that record, that it cannot conclude, to the statutorily required standard of reasonable certainty, that the present tolerances are causing no harm,” wrote Judge Jed Rakoff, a Clinton appointee, in the majority opinion. He was joined by Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, an Obama appointee.
“Yet, rather than ban the pesticide or reduce the tolerances to levels that the EPA can find are reasonably certain to cause no harm, the EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties,” the opinion continued.
Judge Jay Bybee, a George W. Bush appointee, dissented, arguing that his colleagues “misread” EPA’s obligations to review certain uses that it previously determined were safe and that the majority “substituted its own judgment for EPA’s decision.”
The general public can be exposed to chlorpyrifos through food, and agricultural workers can be exposed through their jobs.
Asked about the ruling, EPA spokesperson Ken Labbe said in an email that the agency is reviewing the decision as it weighs its options.
"As the agency pursues its mission to protect human health, including that of children, and the environment, EPA is committed to ensuring the safety of pesticides and other chemicals," he said. "The agency is committed to helping support and protect farmworkers and their families while ensuring pesticides are used safely among the nation’s agriculture."
In 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning the use of chlorpyrifos on food and crops. But in 2017, then-EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Understanding the barriers between scientists, the public and the truth Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official MORE said further studies were warranted.
The Trump administration in December proposed to allow chlorpyrifos’s continued use after it determined that the “science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”
Environmentalists and agricultural worker groups who filed the lawsuit seeking a ban on the chemical celebrated Thursday's court’s ruling.
“Today, we celebrate this huge victory alongside the men and women who harvest our food, who have waited too long for a ban on this pesticide,” said Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, in a statement. “We are relieved that farmworkers and their families will no longer have to worry about the myriad of ways this pesticide could impact their lives.”
Updated 3:24 p.m.