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30 Million Pounds of Brain-Damaging Pesticide Will Be Sprayed on Crops in Next 5 Years

One year ago today, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt sided with the pesticide lobby over EPA scientists in an eleventh-hour decision to abort the agency’s proposal to ban chlorpyrifos from use on food crops. Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide that can harm children’s brains and nervous systems at small doses.

If Pruitt had stood by his own scientists, the chlorpyrifos ban could have taken practical effect next year, but now the EPA won’t reevaluate its safety until 2022. Based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the delay means roughly 30 million pounds of the weed-killer will be sprayed on cropland throughout the country in the next five years.

How much chlorpyrifos is sprayed in your region? Click on the image below to access EWG’s interactive map.

The evidence is overwhelming that even small doses of chlorpyrifos can damage parts of the brain that control language, memory, behavior and emotion. Multiple independent studies have documented that exposure to chlorpyrifos impairs children’s IQs. EPA scientists’ assessments of those studies concluded that levels of the pesticide currently found on food and in drinking water are unsafe.

But Pruitt ignored all that. Here’s a timeline of events in the first months of 2017:

  • Jan. 17: Dow Chemical, which manufactures chlorpyrifos, files a petition with the EPA, calling on the agency to reject the ban on the pesticide.
  • Jan. 20: President Trump takes office, celebrating with inaugural balls for which Dow contributed $1 million.
  • Feb. 17: Pruitt is confirmed by the Senate as EPA administrator, despite evidence of his ties to the industries he will regulate.
  • March 1: According to documents obtained by The New York Times, the Washington State Farm Bureau meets with the EPA, pressing for cancellation of the proposed ban, on which the agency was supposed to decide by March 31. Pruitt tells the group it’s “a new day, a new future” for the relationship between chemical agriculture and the EPA.
  • March 9: Pruitt meets privately with Dow’s CEO at a Houston hotel.
  • March 29: Pruitt signs an order cancelling the proposed ban.

The EPA’s own calculations suggest that babies, children and pregnant women all eat much more chlorpyrifos than is safe.

The EPA estimates that typical exposure for babies is five times higher than what the agency considers safe. For toddlers and older children, exposure is 11 to 15 times what is considered safe, and for pregnant women, five times higher than necessary to protect the developing fetus.