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The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it will allow chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide that’s been linked to learning disabilities in children, to remain on the market for agricultural use.
The decision is a major win for the chemical and agricultural industries and a blow to environmental groups that have fought for years to force the agency to ban the chemical. In its final order, the EPA said petitioners’ claims that chlorpyrifos poses a risk to brain development “are not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence.”
Chlorpyrifos, also known by its trade name Lorsban, is used in nearly 100 countries on more than 50 different crops, including corn, soybeans, cranberries and broccoli. Produced by Dow Chemical Co., it was almost entirely banned for at-home use in the U.S. in 2000. And in November 2015, the Obama administration proposed permanently banning it on food crops, citing potential risks to human health.
But former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course in March 2017, shortly after the Trump administration took office, signing an order to allow for its continued use. The move defied the recommendation of EPA scientists, and Pruitt offered little explanation other than to say the Obama administration relied largely on studies “whose application is novel and uncertain, to reach its conclusions.”
Studies have shown that children exposed to organophosphate pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, have an increased risk for abnormal neurodevelopment, including persistent loss of intelligence and behavior problems. Even low-dose exposure to organophosphates, particularly in the womb, has been found to harm brain development, leading to higher risk of disorders like autism. Residue of the chemical repeatedly turns up in nectarines, peaches, cucumbers and other crops.
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