Through its recent actions about the insecticide, chlorpyrifos (CP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows reckless disregard for the health and safety of infants and children.
CP is a potent insecticide, first released for commercial use by manufacturer Dow Chemical in 1965. It is marketed under several names. CP is an organophosphate, a chemical that disrupts transmission of nerve impulses within the brain and at nerve-muscle junctions. CP is highly effective in eradicating insects and worms when applied to crops of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains.
Because of widespread CP residues in the food chain, most Americans have measurable levels of the chemical in their blood. CP may also be absorbed through the lungs and skin, posing a risk to agricultural workers who work with crops sprayed with CP. People residing close to these farms have higher blood levels of CP.
Acute exposure to high concentrations of CP leads to excessive salivation, vomiting and diarrhea and, in extreme cases, seizures and respiratory paralysis.
A growing body of research links low-level CP exposure in fetuses and young children to a variety of neurological defects including impaired learning and memory along with slowed muscular development. Studies on experimental animals showed that developing brains of fetuses were especially sensitive to minute levels of CP. Studies of children extended over years and involved correlation of exposure to CP with performance on a variety of tests that measured intelligence and neuro-muscular function.
On the strength of evidence then available, EPA banned the indoor use of CP in 2001. Robust research into CP toxicity continues in numerous labs in the U.S. and abroad.
Beginning in 2007, a coalition of environmental and public health organizations pressed for a total ban on CP use. After years of litigation and opposition from Dow and trade groups, EPA agreed in November 2016 that all use of CP should be banned. Studies by EPA's own scientists supported the action.
In March 2017, President Trump issued an executive order creating The American Manufacturing Council as an advisory body to promote U.S. industry and to review regulations that should be repealed. Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris was appointed chairman of the council, which was disbanded later in the year. Dow had been a major contributor to the president's inaugural activities.
On March 28, 2017, newly appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt abruptly canceled the pending ban of CP. He called for a review of scientific studies and a five-year delay in any decision about the use of CP. Under Pruitt's direction, scores of other environmental regulations were repealed with little publicity. Before his EPA role, Pruitt had served as attorney general for Oklahoma, describing himself at that time as a "leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda." In May 2017, Pruitt named a former executive of The American Chemical Council, a trade organization promoting chemical manufacturing, as head of the EPA Toxic Chemical Unit.
Pruitt resigned under a cloud of multiple ethical investigations on July 6, 2018. President Trump named Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry as EPA acting administrator.
Environmental and public health groups continued to press for a total ban on the use of CP. On Aug. 9, 2018, the 9th District U.S. Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, gave EPA 60 days to finalize a ban of CP. EPA has delayed compliance, calling for the courts to review the case.
On the EPA.gov website, Wheeler states: "Children's health is a top priority at EPA, and we have made tremendous progress improving air and water quality and helping kids and families lead healthier lives."
Until the EPA changes its politically inspired agenda, an apt motto for the organization might be, "Make America toxic again."
Parents and all who care for the health and welfare of children can form their own coalition to pressure EPA through their senators and representatives to ban all use of CP now.
Contact Clif Cleaveland, a retired physician, at firstname.lastname@example.org.