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California Fights EPA Decision To Allow Neurotoxic Pesticide On Food

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- California, the largest producer of agriculture in the United States, is fighting back against the new EPA administrator's decision to keep a neurotoxic pesticide --  that the EPA's own scientists warned against -- on the market.

The pesticide chlorpyrifos, also known to farmers as Dow Chemical's Lorsban, is a hazard to humans and animals, Dow Chemical notes on their product's label. The label also states that it is toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, small mammals and birds.

The chemical's drift and runoff can be hazardous to nearby aquatic organisms, Dow Chemical says on its label. It is "highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment or residues on blooming crops or weeds," the label reads.

The chemical company instructs those who are applying the chemical not to allow it "to drift to blooming crops or weeds if bees are visiting the treatment area."

But today, around 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are used in the United States every year, with about 1 million of those pounds used in California. It's applied to a wide-range of crops from corn to plums to wheat to apples.

The pesticide can drift with the wind and runoff with rains. The pesticide can remain on the crop all the way to your grocery store, studies suggest.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is joined by attorneys general from New York, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington and Vermont in its challenge of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's decision to allow the continued use of the pesticide, despite the EPA's own analysis that deemed the chemical harmful to human health.

The attorneys general write that the EPA's decision not to ban the chemical "has resulted in the continued sale and consumption of food commodities in each of the States that contain chlorpyrifos residue not found to be safe."

While the chemical has been in use since 1965, the indoor use of the chemical was banned by the EPA over a decade ago.

Arguing that the pesticide residue found on food is high enough to pose a risk to the developing human brain and nervous system, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network petitioned the EPA to ban Dow AgroSciences' Lorsban roughly 10 years ago.

In 2015, and again in 2016, the EPA was unable to identify a safe level for the pesticide on food and proposed regulations to stop chlorpyrifos from being used on U.S. crops.

The United Farm Workers, Farmworker Justice,  Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation all supported ending the use of the pesticide on food.

But in March 2017, Pruitt, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said the pesticide would be allowed to stay on the market.

Critics of that decision say it disregards scientific studies showing that the chemical is turning up inside people who live or work near the crops, and causing irreversible harm to their health.

For instance, a 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested in Monterey County's Salinas Valley -- a heavily farmed area of California -- had detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit organization that aims to protect endangered species, says Dow has urged the Trump administration to withdraw biological evaluations detailing how chlorpyrifos, as well as the insecticides malathion and diazinon, are a harm to nearly all 1,800 threatened and endangered animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity describes the chemical as "a dangerous pesticide known to cause brain damage in children," and suggests that the Trump administration is ignoring public health concerns posed by the chemical.

Dow is one of three companies that donated $1 million to the Trump inauguration. Over the last six years, Dow has spent over $75 million lobbying Congress and has donated $11 million to political actions committees and congressional campaigns.

"The Trump administration is putting our children and our most endangered wildlife at risk simply to pay off a political debt to Dow," said Brett Hartl at the Center for Biological Diversity . "The stench from Trump's special-interest swamp is growing by the day."

But Pruitt maintains that the pesticide is crucial to U.S. agriculture and said in March, "We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment."

California Attorney General Becerra disagrees, arguing that no parent should have to question whether healthy produce grown in California is unsafe for their children to eat.

Becerra urged EPA Administrator Pruitt "to put the health of the American people ahead of profits for companies. Simply checking to determine the safety of food should be a no-brainer."

The attorneys general are requesting the EPA immediately reverse Pruitt's decision and ultimately ban the use of chlorpyrifos on U.S. crops.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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