What is Chlorpyrifos? EPA Says It Won't Ban Controversial Pesticide Associated With Brain Development Problems in Children

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will not ban a controversial but commonly used pesticide, dismissing previous proposals from its own scientists who highlighted research associating the chemical to health problems in children.

The chemical, known as chlorpyrifos, belongs to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates, which are used on more than 50 different crops, including corn, various fruit trees and soybeans, Mother Jones reported.

According to some recent studies, there is evidence to suggest that being exposed to low doses of the chemical in the womb can lead to developmental problems in the brain, potentially resulting in lower IQs or disorders such as ADD and autism (although it should be noted that such research is not without its limitations, in part, because it does not prove causal links.)

People can be exposed to the chemical through ingestion of food containing the insecticide, or less commonly, through inhalation of contaminated air or absorption through the skin, Fact Check reported. In 2000, the EPA banned the substance in the home due to the potential links to developmental problems in children.

And in 2015, the agency proposed to ban the chemical outright under the Obama administration because it was "unable to conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure from the use of chlorpyrifos meets the safety standard."

But in 2017, the EPA administrator at the time, Scott Pruitt, reversed the decision saying: "We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment. 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."

This reversal initiated a number of legal challenges with a federal appeals court ruling in April that the EPA had to decide by July this year whether or not to ban the substance, The New York Times reported.

Now, current EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has announced that the ban will not come into effect, according to a statement.

"After reviewing the objections, EPA has determined that the objections related to Petition claims regarding neurodevelopmental toxicity must be denied because the objections and the underlying Petition are not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence sufficient to meet the Petitioners' burden under the The United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as set forth in EPA's implementing regulations," the statement read.

The latest decision has been criticized by Patti Goldman, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice which initiated a legal challenge against the EPA in 2017 over Pruitt's decision to reverse the Obama era proposals.

"By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump's EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the overwhelming scientific evidence that this pesticide harms children's brains," Goldman said in a statement.

Andrew Wheeler, EPA administrator
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testifies during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing regarding President Donald Trump’s FY2020 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, on Capitol Hill April 2, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The headline of this article has been updated.

What is Chlorpyrifos? EPA Says It Won't Ban Controversial Pesticide Associated With Brain Development Problems in Children | Health