(CN) – A popular pesticide shown to be particularly toxic to children can continue to be used on commercial crops, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.
The decision to keep chlorpyrifos on the market follows several years of legal challenges and calls to ban the chemical from farm labor organizations and environmental advocacy groups.
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate in the same chemical family as sarin nerve gas and is used widely on fruits and vegetables, particularly strawberries, apples, citrus fruits, broccoli and corn.
Several states have banned the use of the pesticide, including California this year. Multiple studies, including one conducted by EPA scientists, have highlighted the neurodevelopmental effects exposure can have on children.
In 2007, Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council asked the EPA to “revoke the tolerances” for chlorpyrifos, which essentially amounts to a ban. The Ninth Circuit court has twice ordered the EPA to make a final decision on a ban of the pesticide, in 2015 and 2019.
A ban appeared close at hand until the Trump administration ushered in a new era for the chemical, and in 2017 then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said his agency would deny the petition to revoke the tolerances.
Thursday’s announcement narrowly meets the deadline set by the en banc Ninth Circuit, which in April ordered the EPA to make a decision.
The EPA justified its decision by claiming the objections by the environmental advocates “are not supported by valid, complete, and reliable evidence” to meet the burden under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
The agency said it will revisit the issue in 2022 when the product’s registration comes up for review.
Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman said the federal government wrongly placed the burden on advocates.
“They’re running out of excuses for delays,” Goldman said in an interview. “They’re using the appeals process to perpetuate the delay. I’m confident that when we get to a ruling the EPA will be held to a violation of law.”
Goldman argued the case at the Ninth Circuit in 2019 on behalf of several agricultural labor groups and environmental advocacy organizations. She expects to be back in court to argue on the merits of the case.
In a statement, Corteva Agriscience spokesperson Gregg Schmidt said the manufacturer is committed to working with the EPA as the agency makes its determination regarding chlorpyrifos.
“Labeled uses of chlorpyrifos rest on five decades of experience in use, health surveillance of manufacturing workers and applicators, and more than 4,000 studies and reports examining the product in terms of health, safety and the environment,” said Schmidt.
Corteva Agriscience is a former subsidiary of chlorpyrifos inventor Dow Chemical.
Chlorpyrifos was banned for household use in 2000.