SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Environmentalists claim in a federal complaint that regulators refused to provide documents relating to their relationship with the pesticide manufacturer Dow Chemical.
Filed Wednesday in San Francisco, the Pesticide Action Network of North America’s lawsuit accuses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of withholding documents about the chlorpyrifos. Though EPA scientists have deemed the pesticide a human health hazard, the EPA has not made any changes to limit its use.
“PANNA seeks these communications as part of its public education and advocacy to reverse EPA’s decision not to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances,” the organization says in the complaint. “EPA has failed to respond to PANNA’s FOIA requests within the time required by law and is unlawfully withholding the information sought by PANNA.”
The controversy over chlorpyrifos dates back to 2007, when the Natural Resources Defense Council and PANNA jointly filed a petition with the EPA asking the agency to consider banning the pesticide in light of mounting evidence it presents a hazard to human health in general and childhood development in particular.
Several studies show that even low doses of chlorpyrifos can have adverse impacts on infants’ cognitive and emotional development. Large doses can cause acute toxicity in exposed individuals, and studies demonstrate that agricultural workers with frequent exposure to the pesticide have developed serious lung ailments, including wheeze and cancer.
Since the 2007 petition, the EPA has released assessments saying the tolerance numbers from the pesticides may have to be revised, particularly as the agency fretted that exposure to children through water supply and drift was possible.
Nevertheless, the agency dragged its feet on a final decision – prompting the concerned environmental organizations to sue in 2014, asking the court to force the agency to act.
In 2015, the agency proposed revoking use of the pesticide and then recommended lower tolerance numbers the following year, but still held out on a final decision regarding the ban.
With the election of President Donald Trump and his subsequent appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, the agency’s public pronouncements regarding chlorpyrifos changed.
In March 2017, the EPA issued an order to deny the 2007 petition requesting a ban of the pesticide.
“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said. “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 the complaint, PANNA says the agency erred in considering industry costs rather than environmental considerations.
The pesticide, which was banned for home use in 2001, is one of the most widely used insecticides in the nation. It acts on the insect’s nervous system and is effective at killing pests. In 2007, when the petition was first filed, more than 10 million pounds of the chemical was applied on crops, making it the 14th most common pesticide ingredient in the United States.
Dow Chemical manufactures chlorpyrifos.
Since assuming office, Trump has enjoyed an increasingly close friendship with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, according to the complaint. Liveris was chosen by Trump, who was president-elect at the time, to head the American Manufacturing Council.
Dow Chemical contributed $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, according to an article in USA Today. And Liveris was present when Trump signed an executive order on regulatory reform and was handed the pen used to sign the order after the ceremony was complete.
In March, after the EPA said it would not grant the environmental organization’s petition, Dow Chemical issued a statement.
“This is the right decision for farmers who, in about 100 countries, rely on the effectiveness of chlorpyrifos to protect more than 50 crops,” the company said.
Soon after, the Associated Press reported Dow Chemical and other pesticide manufacturers had written to Trump administration cabinet members asking them to set aside studies that found a certain class of pesticides to be harmful to an array of endangered wildlife.
These things prompted PANNA’s request for documents that showed correspondence between the EPA regulators and Dow chemical over a given time period, the organization says in the complaint.
“In order to understand the full extent of outside influences on EPA’s decision-making with regard to its proposal to revoke chlorpyrifos food tolerances, PANNA submitted two FOIA requests to EPA,” the complaint says.
Specifically, PANNA asked for “any and all information received from Dow AgroSciences, and correspondence and communications (and references thereto) between EPA and Dow AgroSciences regarding the pesticide chlorpyrifos since September 2007.”
After a back-and-forth regarding the scope of the request, the EPA has not provided the requested documents and PANNA sued, according to the complaint.
PANNA seeks a declaration that it has a statutory right to the documents and to require the EPA to provide them.
The EPA has requested a copy of the complaint and has yet to comment on the lawsuit.
PANNA is represented by Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice, based in Seattle.