Court gives EPA 60 days to remove popular insecticide from market

A federal appeals court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency endangered public health by keeping a widely used pesticide on the market after evidence should exposure to the chemical can harm the brains of babies.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given the Environmental Protection Agency 60 days to revoke all food tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos, one of the most used conventional insecticides.

Under the Obama Administration, the EPA had proposed to ban food tolerances for the chemical. But then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued an order in March 2017 allowing the continued use of chlorpyrifos saying “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.”

In a split decision, the San Francisco-based court said Pruitt’s decision violates the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful.

“The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children,” Appeals Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the majority’s opinion.

Th EPA could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

First registered as an insecticide in 1965, chlorpyrifos is the most widely used agriculture pesticide in the United States with Dow Chemical selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year. The chemical is used on nearly 50 different crops including soybeans and corn.

In 2000, Dow voluntarily withdrew chlorpyrifos from use as a home insecticide. In 2012, the EPA placed no-spray buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools.

In its opinion, the court said that for almost two decades, the EPA “has documented the likely adverse effects of foods containing the residue of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on the physical and mental development of American infants and children, often lasting into adulthood.”

Circuit Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez dissented, reasoning that the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter.

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