EPA rejects its own findings that a widely used pesticide harms children’s brains

The Trump administration has rejected scientific evidence linking the pesticide chlorpyrifos to serious health problems, directly contradicting federal scientists’ conclusions five years ago that it can stunt brain development in children, according to The New York Times.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of the pesticide, which is widely used on soybeans, almonds, grapes and other crops, is a fresh victory for chemical-makers and the agricultural industry, as well as the latest in a long list of Trump administration regulatory rollbacks.

In announcing its decision, the EPA said that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.” However, in making its finding, the agency excluded several epidemiological studies, most prominently one conducted at Columbia University, that found a correlation between prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and developmental disorders in toddlers.

As a result, the assessment may be the first major test of the Trump administration’s intention, often referred to as its “secret science” proposal, to bar or give less weight to scientific studies that can’t or don’t publicly release their underlying data. This controversial policy would eliminate many studies that track the effects of exposure to substances on people’s health over long periods of time, because the data often includes confidential medical records of the subjects, scientists have said.

The EPA has not finalized the regulation that would officially restrict using such studies in decision-making, but the chlorpyrifos assessment suggests it has moved forward in applying it.

The chlorpyrifos assessment comes on the heels of other EPA moves to weaken restrictions on toxic chemicals. The agency recently pulled back on regulating perchlorate, a water contaminant tied to fetal brain damage, and last year opted not to ban asbestos over the objections of agency scientists.

The debate over banning chlorpyrifos goes back more than 13 years. In 2015 the Obama administration said it would ban the pesticide after scientific studies produced by the EPA showed it had the potential to make farmworkers sick and damage brain development in children. That ban had not yet come into force when, in 2017, Scott Pruitt, then the administrator of the EPA, reversed that decision, setting off a wave of legal challenges.

A dozen environmental and labor groups are suing the EPA to try to force an immediate ban.

In a hearing in July before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the EPA argued that the agency does not dispute that chlorpyrifos can cause neurodevelopmental effects. But, an agency attorney argued, there is dispute over what level of exposure is dangerous.

The agency said not being able to see Columbia University’s raw data was problematic and prevented the EPA from independently assessing the findings.

Attorneys supporting a ban on chlorpyrifos said the Columbia University researchers were willing to show their data to agency officials in a secure location, but have not released the information publicly because of privacy concerns.

Several states, including California, New York and Hawaii, already have enacted bans of varying strictness. Corteva, the world’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, has said it will stop producing the chemical by the end of this year.

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