The Ninth Circuit on Thursday ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food unless the EPA can find that it’s safe for children.
A split three-judge panel said the EPA has studied chlorpyrifos’ effects for more than a decade and has found, again and again, that it cannot say with reasonable certainty that the currently allowable limits of the chemical cause no harm to people. Environmental groups and states had petitioned the Ninth Circuit to force the agency to reconsider its rejection of a petition to ban the chemical.
The majority ordered the EPA to either modify its chlorpyrifos “tolerances,” or acceptable amounts, under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and simultaneously publish a finding that the modified tolerances are safe, including for infants and children, or to revoke all existing chlorpyrifos tolerances. In addition, the court ordered the EPA to also modify or cancel related approvals for food use under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
The litigation was the continuation of a battle that started in 2007 when Pesticide Action Network North America and the NRDC asked the EPA for the ban, claiming that food residue tolerances established by the agency weren’t safe. In that same year, the EPA denied the groups’ petition to ban chlorpyrifos, so they filed administrative objections. After the EPA did not reply in time, the groups sued in federal court.
Environmental and community groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of United Latin American Citizens, and states including New York and California, in 2019 filed lawsuits in the Ninth Circuit alleging that the pesticide is unsafe. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate, is linked to brain development problems in children and is said to be especially dangerous to pregnant women and fetuses.