EPA OKs Pesticide Linked to Lower IQs, Memory Issues in Children

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is recommending the continued use of a pesticide that is suspected to cause brain damage in children.

An interim decision proposed by the EPA on Thursday includes some new restrictions on the chemical chlorpyrifos but stops short of banning its use. Research has suggested that the chemical can cause adverse effects in humans, including damage to developing brains, potentially resulting in significant memory problems, muscle and nerve issues and the development of lower IQ in children.

"EPA is refusing to protect children from damage to their brains and learning disabilities," Patti Goldman, managing attorney for the environmental legal advocacy group Earthjustice, said in a statement. "Even with the new protections, the agency is still failing children, who will continue to be exposed to chlorpyrifos at levels that cause lifelong damage."

Restrictions on chlorpyrifos proposed by the EPA include "label amendments limiting application to address potential drinking water risks of concern," efforts to mitigate risks related to "spray drift," a reduction in "exposure to non-target organisms" and a mandate that farm workers who handle the chemical wear additional personal protective equipment and take other safety measures.

EPA Allows Chemical Linked to Developmental Damage
A farm worker wearing heavy protective gear sprays chemicals on a crop in this undated file photograph. ANDREW HOLBROOKE/Corbis/Getty

In September, the EPA issued a risk assessment that determined "the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects" of chlorpyrifos "remains unresolved," despite multiple studies suggesting harm, including some studies funded by the agency years earlier.

Likely due to a Trump administration policy against "secret science," the EPA said it would not consider certain studies where the "raw data" was not fully accessible. Epidemiological studies tracking long term health effects often include information that is kept confidential due to laws concerning the private medical records of study participants.

It is not clear that the interim decision will stand. The proposal will be followed by a 60-day public comment period and a final decision will take place after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, with the incoming administration likely to make changes to EPA leadership.

In 2000, the EPA determined that the chemical was too dangerous for home use when issuing a ban against it being used in consumer products or indoors. The continued use of chlorpyrifos as a common commercial pesticide has been controversial ever since.

In 2015, the administration of former President Barack Obama proposed a national ban on chlorpyrifos being used in food and crops. States including New York and California have issued their own chlorpyrifos bans in recent years.

After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his choice to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, said he was "returning to using sound science in decision-making" when announcing that the agency would reverse the Obama administration's decision to ban the chemical.

Newsweek reached out to the EPA for comment.