June 29, 2017

Udall Demands Answers from Pruitt on Decision Not to Ban Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

'EPA should not wait until October 2022, or even October 2017, to revoke food tolerances of chlorpyrifos,’ linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in children

Udall to Pruitt: Why did you reject the EPA’s own scientific determination and deny petition to ban toxic chlorpyrifos?

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s budget, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt demanding answers about his March 29 decision to reject a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide associated with neurodevelopmental disorders in children and acute poisonings of farm workers. In denying the petition, Pruitt reversed the EPA’s proposed ban on the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops — and rejected the scientific determination of EPA’s professional staff linking chlorpyrifos to brain damage and farmer and bystander poisoning.

The letter comes following a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the EPA’s FY18 budget, during which Udall pressed Pruitt to provide an explanation for why he overruled the judgment of EPA’s professional staff and reversed EPA’s decision to ban all chlorpyrifos food tolerances, which allow levels of a pesticide to remain in or on food. The letter also comes in the wake of news reports that Pruitt met with the CEO of Dow Chemical – the corporation that manufactures chlorpyrifos – just days before deciding not to ban the pesticide.

In response to questioning from Udall during the hearing, Pruitt declined to provide any scientific evidence behind his decision to deny the petition to ban chlorpyrifos, instead repeatedly stating that he would make a final decision on chlorpyrifos by October 1st, 2017. The EPA website, however, states that EPA “will continue to review the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects and complete our assessment by October 1, 2022” — not October 1, 2017. In his letter, Udall said that "EPA should not wait until October 2022, or even October 2017, to revoke food tolerances of chlorpyrifos. … Delay will only result in additional and unnecessary exposures by farm workers and children who continue to have chlorpyrifos experimented on them while the rest of the scientific community has determined there is reasonable cause for danger.” Udall said the law requires EPA to prohibit use of a pesticide on food if the agency cannot ensure with “reasonable certainty” that “no harm” will result from exposure to the pesticide.

In addition to sending the letter to Pruitt, Udall issued the following statement: “The science linking chlorpyrifos to brain damage and neurodevelopmental disorders in children is undeniable. People are rightly concerned that the head of the EPA – the man whose agency is explicitly tasked with protecting American families from exposure to toxic chemicals – may be putting the interests of Dow Chemical ahead of our children’s health. While I am concerned that Adminstrator Pruitt appears to have provided the committee with wrong information about the final deadline for his agency’s review of chlorpyrifos, either October 2022 or October 2017 is too late a date to ban this toxic pesticide. The EPA must act now to protect the health and safety of America’s children and families. Administrator Pruitt has still not explained what new information the EPA has received since last fall’s election that resulted in his decision to reverse the proposed ban on chlorpyrifos.”

In his letter, Udall requested that Pruitt provide "the scientific information presented to you that resulted in your decision to reject the petition to revoke food tolerances of chlorpyrifos. Please also provide the letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that you referenced, along with an explanation of why you found their scientific analysis more robust than that of EPA’s.”

The full text of Udall’s letter can be found below and here.

Dear Mr. Administrator:

On March 29, you signed an order denying a petition that sought to revoke food tolerances for chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in children and acute poisonings of farm workers. Chlorpyrifos has long been of concern to EPA. Residential uses of chlorpyrifos ended in 2000 after EPA found unsafe exposures to children. EPA also discontinued use of chlorpyrifos on tomatoes and restricted its use on apples and grapes in 2000, and obtained no-spray buffers around schools, homes, playfields, day cares, hospitals, and other public places, ranging from 10 to 100 feet.

In 2015, EPA proposed to ban all chlorpyrifos food tolerances, based on unsafe drinking water contamination, which would end use of chlorpyrifos on food in the United States. After updating the risk assessment for chlorpyrifos in November 2016 to protect against prenatal exposures associated with brain impacts, EPA found that expected residues from use on food crops exceeded the safety standard, and additionally the majority of estimated drinking water exposures from currently allowed uses of chlorpyrifos also exceeded acceptable levels, reinforcing the need to revoke all food tolerances for the pesticide.

During our hearing to review the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency, you repeatedly said that you would make a decision on whether or not to regulate chlorpyrifos by October 1st of this year. The EPA website, however, states that EPA “will continue to review the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects and complete our assessment by October 1, 2022.” In 1996, Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which directs the EPA to ensure with “reasonable certainty” that “no harm” will result from food, drinking water, and other exposures to a pesticide. If EPA cannot make this safety finding, it must prohibit residues and use of the pesticide on food. Therefore, EPA should not wait until October 2022, or even October 2017, to revoke food tolerances of chlorpyrifos if there is scientific evidence that shows concerns exist. Delay will only result in additional and unnecessary exposures by farm workers and children who continue to have chlorpyrifos experimented on them while the rest of the scientific community has determined there is reasonable cause for danger.

As such, please provide to the Subcommittee the scientific information presented to you that resulted in your decision to reject the petition to revoke food tolerances of chlorpyrifos. Please also provide the letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that you referenced, along with an explanation of why you found their scientific analysis more robust than that of EPA’s.

Sincerely,