WASHINGTON, March 29, 2017 - The Environmental Protection Agency has decided to continue allowing the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos, stating that the science surrounding human health effects is too uncertain to justify its own proposed ban on food tolerances.
The agency announced the decision late today, two days ahead of a court-ordered deadline. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network had petitioned the agency 10 years ago to ban Dow AgroSciences’ organophosphate insecticide (tradename: Lorsban), which is used to control a variety of crop pests, including corn rootworm and soybean aphid.
The groups have argued that food residue levels are high enough to pose a risk to the developing brain and nervous system.
But EPA said in its news release that its October 2015 proposal to revoke food tolerances “largely relied on certain epidemiological study outcomes, whose application is novel and uncertain, to reach its conclusions.”
An EPA Scientific Advisory Panel convened to examine the epidemiological data used by the agency questioned the agency’s use of a Columbia University study that relied on umbilical cord blood data from pregnant women to extrapolate exposure levels for children. The SAP released its report last summer.
“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results.”
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) was quick to praise the decision.
“By maintaining the Maximum Residue Limits for chlorpyrifos, agricultural use of this important tool will continue, significant disruption of international trade is avoided, and harmonization efforts may continue globally,” NASDA President and Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture & Forestry Mike Strain said. “As state regulatory partners with EPA, we look forward to continuing to work with the agency to ensure current and future tools are reviewed in a rigorous, scientifically sound, and transparent manner.”
USDA also was pleased. Sheryl Kunickis, director of the department’s Office of Pest Management Policy, said the decision “means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.”
Kunickis also said it was “great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables,” and added, “We thank our colleagues at EPA for their hard work.”
Chlorpyrifos is used on more than 50 crops, including soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, citrus, fruit, tree nuts, vegetables, sugarbeets and cotton, CropLife America said in a brief filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is “the leading insecticide active ingredient to control a number of different insects in crops, including soybean aphids in soybeans, aphids and armyworm in alfalfa, European asparagus aphid and cutworm in asparagus, corn rootworm and lesser cornstalk borer in peanuts, and leafrollers and San Jose scale in apples.”
“The public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal,” EPA said in its release. “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.”
In its order denying the petition, EPA said it has “concluded that, despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved and that further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos.”
The agency “has therefore concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution on those issues. As noted, Congress has provided that EPA must complete registration review by October 1, 2022.”
In the days leading up to the decision, environmental groups had mobilized to muster support for the proposed tolerance revocation. The Environmental Working Group collected signatures for an online petition, saying that “research has linked chlorpyrifos to nervous system damage, behavioral problems and lower IQ in young children whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy. In adults, low-level exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause nausea, headaches and dizziness. Farmworkers and others who are severely exposed have suffered vomiting, muscle cramps, diarrhea, blurred vision, loss of consciousness and even paralysis.”
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