VIDEO: In Speech, Udall Urges Ban of Dangerous Pesticide Chlorpyrifos Linked to Brain Damage in Children
Says bill is urgently needed after EPA’s Pruitt overruled his own EPA scientists in March and refused a ban
WASHINGTON — Today in a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Tom Udall made the case for why Congress must act to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a dangerous neurotoxin linked to brain damage in children. Udall said his Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act is urgently needed after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected EPA scientists’ determination that all food applications of the pesticide are unsafe and that the chemical risks harm to children, farmers, and farmworkers. Pruitt, saying the science isn't settled, put the decision off until 2022. Pruitt’s move came just weeks after meeting with Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of chlorpyrifos and a chlorpyrifos alternative.
In his speech, Udall told the stories of farmers, farmworkers, and pregnant women who became ill when they were exposed to chlorpyrifos, and outlined the dangerous effects the chemical has on children. "In plain English, chlorpyrifos damages children’s brains," Udall said in his remarks.
"The EPA was created to make thoughtful, science-based decisions on issues that affect public health and the economy. But in his first decision at the EPA, the administrator has shown his hand. He did not respect the science – not even from his own scientific team. And not even when the science is overwhelmingly decisive. If the EPA and this administration won’t act to protect the public – to protect children – then Congress must."
In addition to Udall the bill, S.1624, is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). A basic summary is available here.
Last week, Udall held a press conference with Blumenthal and mothers, farmworkers, child development experts, and advocates to unveil the bill.
The full text of Udall’s remarks is available below.
Mr. President, this May, a spray of pesticide from a nearby orchard drifted over to a field, exposing nearly 50 farm workers in California. They soon became sick with nausea and vomiting. Several were hospitalized. The workers described it as a living nightmare.
The chemical they were exposed to is called chlorpyrifos – a neurotoxic pesticide related to sarin gas. It has been in use since it was developed by Dow Chemical over 50 years ago. Today, it is most often used on fruits and nuts, including strawberries, citrus, apples, and pecans in my home state. It’s also used on grains, and vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
A few years ago, Bonnie Wirtz also experienced the effects of chlorpyrifos. Bonnie is a farmer in Minnesota. She was exposed when spray drift came into her home through the air conditioner. Her heart started racing -- almost to the point of cardiac arrest -- and she couldn’t breathe. At the hospital, her nurse practitioner told her she wasn’t surprised. She had seen others with similar reactions.
About 10 years ago Claudia Angulo, a farmworker in California’s San Joaquin Valley, was exposed to chlorpyrifos when she was pregnant. Claudia worked sorting oranges, apples, broccoli, and other produce treated with the chemical.
When her son Isaac was born with a mental disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, she suspected the pesticides she was exposed to. A few years ago, European scientists tested some of Isaac’s hair. He had traces of over 50 pesticides in his body. And the highest concentration was chlorpyrifos.
It has long been known that exposure to chlorpyrifos can be deadly. But after years of study, researchers in the United States and a number of other countries now believe there also is a strong connection between chlorpyrifos exposure and mental disability, ADHD, and memory deficit in children. They believe the chemical damages children’s developing brains, even if they are exposed before birth.
Latino children, whose parents are exposed to the pesticide – and who grow up near fields treated with it – are at the greatest risk.
But scientists believe the pesticide poses a threat even to children exposed to it from produce from the grocery store. Or through drinking water. The connection is so strong that scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the EPA ban all uses of the pesticide in 2015. The agency had already negotiated a ban on household use 15 years ago.
But this March, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ignored his own scientists and the body of scientific evidence that chlorpyrifos is dangerous. Instead, he reversed course, and refused to ban chlorpyrifos.
And that is why I rise today, to talk about this danger to our children.
Mr. President, when moms and dads feed fruits and vegetables to their children, they are trying to do the right thing.
They shouldn’t have to worry that these foods are laced with dangerous nerve agents. And they shouldn’t have to worry that the farmworkers who picked that produce or the farmers living near it were exposed.
I’ve been part of the fight to protect public health and the environment from toxic chemicals most of my life.
I remember when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962. My father, Stewart Udall, was her champion when she was fiercely attacked by the chemical industry.
Just over a year ago, I led the bipartisan effort to reform the broken Toxic Substances Control Act.
I spent several years working to reform how the EPA regulates chemicals. Fighting to stand up a credible program that could be respected, that could restore confidence in the EPA on chemical safety.
So I am very disappointed to have to do this. To introduce a bill on a related matter – pesticide regulation.
Normally, I would argue that Congress should stay out of the business of regulating individual chemicals. That's why the EPA was created -- to make thoughtful, science-based decisions on issues that affect public health and the economy.
But in his first decision at the EPA, the administrator has shown his hand. He did not respect the science – not even from his own scientific team. And not even when the science is overwhelmingly decisive. If the EPA and this administration won’t act to protect the public – to protect children – then Congress must.
I have studied the case for banning chlorpyrifos. There is no question that it needs to come off the market. In this situation, I believe that Congress must step in to protect children's health.
That is why I have introduced the Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act -- to do what EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt refuses to do: Ban chlorpyrifos.
Now let's look at the reasons we for banning chlorpyrifos. And there are three very good ones.
There are three reasons I believe this bill is necessary:
First, Administrator Pruitt is wrong. The science is established that chlorpyrifos is a threat to health in its current use.
The EPA has studied and studied the toxicity of chlorpyrifos for over a decade. I’ve talked to scientists who have been studying it for over thirty years.
In a December 2014 risk assessment, the EPA found chlorpyrifos caused unsafe drinking water contamination. Based on that assessment, the EPA formally proposed, in November 2015, to revoke the use of chlorpyrifos on food. As recently as December 2016, the EPA reaffirmed its determination.
The pesticide is intended to act on the nervous system of insects. But it can act on the human nervous system as well.
It can cause immediate symptoms like nausea, vomiting, convulsions, respiratory paralysis – as Bonnie Wirtz and the farmworkers in California experienced. In extreme cases, it can kill.
But more worrisome – even low level exposure of chlorpyrifos to developing fetuses and young children can interrupt the development processes of the nervous system. Exposure during gestation or childhood is linked with lower birth weight, slower motor development, and attention problems.
Long-lasting effects on child brain development from in-utero exposure also include impaired perceptual reasoning and working memory -- and undermined intellectual development by age 7. Exposure to organo-phosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos is associated with changes in children's cognitive, behavioral, and motor performance.
In plain English, chlorpyrifos damages children’s brains.
Second, chlorpyrifos was one of the most widely used household insecticides -- until the EPA raised concerns in 2000, 17 years ago. Household use was phased out. That same year, the EPA discontinued use of chlorpyrifos on tomatoes altogether and restricted its use on apples and grapes.
Currently, chlorpyrifos is still widely used in agriculture, but its use is on the decline.
In 2012, EPA required no-spray buffers around schools, homes, playfields, day care centers, hospitals, and other public places.
So growers are already working to find alternatives.
And the third reason, scientists, doctors, advocates, myself, and many of our colleagues were shocked when Administrator Pruitt changed course on chlorpyrifos in March – choosing to wait until 2022.
The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a letter to Administrator Pruitt in June telling him that, “EPA has no new evidence indicating that chlorpyrifos exposures are safe. As a result, EPA has no basis to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, and its insistence on doing so puts all children at risk."
Mr. President, the science hasn’t changed since the EPA proposed to ban chlorpyrifos in 2015 and 2016. Only the politics have.
Mr. President, the law should protect Americans from unsafe pesticides. Under the Food Quality Protection Act, the EPA administrator “may establish or leave in effect a tolerance for a pesticide chemical residue in or on food only if the administrator determines that the tolerance is safe.” “Safe” means there is a “reasonable certainty that no harm will come from aggregate exposure.”
If the administrator can’t determine that a pesticide is safe, the administrator must revoke or modify the tolerance.
In the case of chlorpyrifos, Administrator Pruitt did not determine the pesticide is safe with “reasonable certainty." Nor could he. Instead, he hid behind his claim that the issue requires years more study.
This issue has been the subject of litigation for many years. When the EPA asked the federal court overseeing the lawsuit for a mere 6-month extension for more study, the court gave a resounding “no.”
It called the request “another variation on the theme of ‘partial reports, missed deadlines, and vague promises of future action’ that has been repeated for the last nine years.”
The EPA administrator has now given himself a 5-year extension. He is failing to follow the Food Quality Protection Act and he is tying up the federal government in more unnecessary and wasteful taxpayer-funded litigation.
In the meantime, children, farmers and farmworkers are risk – because the administrator refuses to follow the rule of law.
And it doesn’t stop there. Administrator Pruitt wants to dismantle protections for farmworkers.
The EPA is proposing to delay two rules vital to protecting our nation’s farmworkers: the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule.
Farmworkers have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among U.S. workers. They are regularly exposed to pesticides. Despite the urgent need to protect them and their families, they actually are less protected than other workers.
Now, we don’t know exactly why Administrator Pruitt is choosing to believe a chemical company over respected scientists – at his own agency and around the world. But we can follow the money and guess one reason.
While the president and administrator ignore science and the law, they have not ignored Dow Chemical Company.
Dow gave the president $1 million dollars for his inauguration. Its CEO attended the signing ceremony when the president issued his executive order requiring agencies to roll back unnecessary regulations. The CEO even got the signing pen, and the CEO met with Administrator Pruitt shortly before the order not to ban one of Dow’s big money makers.
Mr. President, Administrator Pruitt may choose to put aside science, public health, and environmental protection -- in favor of big chemical profits — but Congress should not.
I urge all my colleagues – especially those across the aisle – to stand with me. And to pass this protection for children, farmers, and farmworkers.
I thank my cosponsors, Senators Blumenthal, Booker, Durbin, Gillibrand, Harris, Markey, Merkley and Cardin.
And there have been many health and labor groups that have stood up on this issue. Just to name a few of them today:
National Hispanic Medical Association
Learning Disabilities Association of America
United Farm Workers
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
Natural Resources Defense Council
Environmental Working Group
Pesticide Action Network
Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste
The Pesticide Registration Information Act is currently moving through Congress. This gives Congress the opportunity to address chlorpyrifos use and worker protection. This bill is a good start for those discussions.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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