EPA reverses on common pesticide

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH (TNS)

President Donald Trump told Fox Business News in April: “We’ve done an amazing job on regulations. We’ve freed it up. We freed up this country so much.”

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, has freed up the country to continue using a pesticide called chlorpyrifos on everything from strawberries and almonds to Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

This despite a warning from the National Institutes of Health that chlorpyrifos can cause “adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects” in human beings. This despite scientific studies indicating that chlorpyrifos can interfere with fetal brain development, leading to higher rates of autism and lower intelligence.

The Trump administration fails to acknowledge that the government has a role in protecting Americans from unseen dangers in their food. That’s weighed against economic facts: Chlorpyrifos kills insects that destroy crops, leading to bigger yields and cheaper food.

Protecting industry is likely to be more important than protecting consumers in an EPA run by Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma with a history of fighting the EPA. Trump recently sent him some help in the person of Nancy Beck, who was named the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention. This is the office that regulates toxic chemicals.

Beck’s previous job: senior director of regulatory science policy for the American Chemical Council. In this job, she challenged scientific studies unfavorable to the chemical industry. During the George W. Bush administration, she analyzed toxic chemicals for the Office of Management and Budget. In 2009, the House Science Committee criticized her for “rewriting the ‘science’” on some policy issues.

Even under the Obama administration, the EPA dragged its feet on regulating chlorpyrifos. The pesticide was outlawed for household use and for use on tomatoes in 2000, but the effort to restrict all agricultural use bogged down until 2015. A federal appeals case kept it in limbo until March. Just when the EPA-adopted rule was set to take effect, Pruitt undid it.

Chlorpyrifos, marketed under trade names like Lorsban and Dursban, accounts for at least a third of the $6.2 billion in annual worldwide sales of its manufacturer, Dow AgroSciences. It just so happens that Dow also donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee.

The company has challenged the scientific conclusions about its effect on children’s brain development found in studies at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of California at Davis and Columbia University. Dow further claims that chlorpyrifos results in $22.9 billion in added income for U.S. farmers.

When science is in dispute, it’s the job of regulators to decide when risks outweigh rewards. The EPA took 15 years to decide that yes, they did. It took the Trump EPA about 15 minutes to decide that no, they didn’t. Wash your kids’ food very carefully.

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