Court orders EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage in kids

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban a widely used pesticide that’s been linked to learning disabilities in children and that former agency chief Scott Pruitt refused to take off the market.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in a 2-to-1 decision that the EPA offered “no defense” of its decision to delay a ban on chlorpyrifos ― a move the court said violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The law governs pesticides and requires the EPA to ban chemicals from being used on food if they are proven to cause harm.

The decision is a major blow to Pruitt, who signed an order in March of last year to allow chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide that has been used on crops such as broccoli to cranberries since the 1960s, to remain on the market for agricultural use. His decision defied the recommendation of EPA scientists.

Under the Obama administration in November 2015, the EPA proposed permanently banning the chemical on food crops, citing potential risks to human health.

But in March 2017, Pruitt reversed plans to ban the chemical in one of his first and most widely criticized moves as EPA administrator. The agency offered little explanation for the decision ― Pruitt claimed the Obama administration relied largely on studies “whose application is novel and uncertain, to reach its conclusions” ― but said it planned to keep studying the health effects.

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Former Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt
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Former Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to employees of the Agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Director of Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is sworn in by Justice Samuel Alito as his wife Marilyn holds a bible during ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greets employees of the agency in Washington, U.S., February 21, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R), U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meets with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) (L) in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick as head of the Environmental Protectional Agency, meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Oklahoma Farm Bureau Vice President of Public Policy John R.H. Collison (L) meets with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to discuss state water issues at the attorney generals office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014.

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in a meeting at his office in Oklahoma City, July 29, 2014. 

(REUTERS/Nick Oxford)

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In a letter to Pruitt in June, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, said they were “deeply alarmed” by his decision. 

“EPA has no basis to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, and its insistence in doing so puts all children at risk,” they wrote. 

Chlorpyrifos, produced by Dow Chemical Co. and commonly known by its trade name Lorsban, is used in nearly 100 countries on more than 50 different crops. It was largely banned in 2000 for at-home use in the U.S. but continues to be widely used on thousands of American farms. 

Pruitt spent much of his short tenure, which ended last month amid a mountain of personal and ethical scandals, deflecting questions about his refusal to ban the chemical. In contentious congressional hearings, he repeatedly downplayed the decision and said the research was continuing. At times, he even suggested the agency could instate the ban but gave no clear timeline for when that would happen.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In a statement Thursday, Earthjustice attorney Marisa Ordonia applauded the court for ending “EPA’s shameful actions that have exposed children and farmworkers to this poison for decades.” 

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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