After years of exhaustive research linking the pesticide chlorpyrifos to a host of developmental and cognitive deficiencies in children, the EPA was poised to ban the chemical in November 2016. But something else happened that same month: the election of Donald Trump. As a result, this potent neurotoxin is still in use. Miriam Rotkin-Ellman is a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is still fighting for a ban.
Miles O’Brien: Hello and welcome to another edition of Miles To Go. I’m Miles O’Brien.
Today we’re going to talk about a deadly nerve agent that is in the same family as Sarin gas. Developed by Nazi scientists in the 1930s, you might be a little bit surprised to know that it is widely used as a pesticide on all kinds of crops in the United States.
I’m talking about a chemical called chlorpyrifos. Scientists have mounds of evidence linking the chemical to developmental, behavioral, and cognitive deficiencies in children.
There’s really no scientific doubt about this… of course, there’s always a little bit of doubt in science but not much in this case. In November of 2016, the EPA under the Obama administration was poised to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos in the US. That’s a pretty big deal.
But what else happened in November of 2016… let me think… Oh, there’s that. And of course a new sheriff running the EPA. Guess what? The chlorpyrifos ban has been shelved. I know you’re shocked.
And I also know you’re shocked to know that once again environmental groups are forced to take the EPA to court to try and get it to listen to its own scientists and do its job.
At the center of the legal fight is the Natural Resources Defense Council. I spoke to senior scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman as part of a story we’re doing for the PBS NewsHour on chlorpyrifos, its near banning, and its continued presence on our food, and its impact particularly on people who live near the fields where this pesticide is sprayed.
I asked her how she came to this particular case, this particular chemical.
Miriam: NRDC has been worried about chlorpyrifos in particular and the sort of family of pesticides, organophosphates for a very long time, since I was in Elementary School honestly.
Some of the earliest reports NRDC has done looking at threats from pesticides to children were about chlorpyrifos and were about organophosphates in the ‘80s. We’ve been since then working to strengthen pesticide laws to protect kids. The passage of the Food Quality Protection Act was a huge step in that direction. We also worked to get the science on the threats of chlorpyrifos in front of the agency that resulted in the ban for household uses back in 2000.
Now, that’s all before I was at NRDC. We’ve continued to be concerned about the Chlorpyrifos, and other organophosphates used in agriculture and still used in the home. We have as a priority to address the health threats from organophosphates and chlorpyrifos is the number one target in agriculture and we also work to get organophosphates out of the home in general.
Miles: Okay. So, give me a short history of the usage of this chemical. I understand this kind of came into more widespread use after DDT was banned, is that accurate?
Miriam: That’s correct. Organophosphates replaced a lot of the class of chemicals that are organochlorines is the class the DDT is a part of. And one of the big harms if you remember about DDT is that it really lasted in the environment. It stuck around; it got into the food chain.
Organophosphates, when out in the air, degrade much more rapidly. And so, they replaced organochlorines when the restrictions were made on that. Unfortunately, the trade off was that organophosphates are much more toxic acutely. That means many more people are getting poisoned in the fields. And when they’re used in the home, children getting poisoned.
Miles: So, it’s much more toxic than DDT and yet shorter lasting, so this is the trade off. Where’s the perfect chemical? I don’t know. Help me understand when you say organophosphate, what is this family? Who else is in the family? What does it do the human body?
Miriam: Sure. So organophosphate is a chemistry and it’s a group of pesticides actually developed in World War II. These are not new exciting innovative technology. This is chemistry we’ve had for quite a long time, very effective at killing bugs.
And the reason it’s very effective at killing bugs is that it interrupts the way that nerve signals communicate with each other and actually cause those nerve signals to continue to fire. And that’s how it kills the bugs. Unfortunately, we aren’t as different from bugs as we wish to think.
So, those same nervous system impulses and the same actual enzymes operate in our body. So, exposure to organophosphates, chlorpyrifos is a very good example, results in what people say in over excitation of the nervous system which is the fancy way to say the nerves keep firing. A poisoning event like, like at a low level, you’re looking at tearing of the eyes, you’re looking at chest tightness, you’re looking at convulsions, seizures, ultimately at a high enough levels, it can actually kill a person.
Miles: So, it’s not un like what we’ve seen out of Syria recently as far as — they’re using sarin gas, right, is this in the same neighborhood?
Miriam: They are in the same family. The chemistry is very similar; the organophosphate chemistry is underpinning both a sarin gas as well as organophosphate pesticides.
Miles: So, we’re using a cousin of a very toxic nerve agent to make our fruit look good or taste good or preserve it or grow it, whatever.
Miriam: Yes, that’s correct.
Miles: It’s hard to imagine something as powerful as this was used in household setting. Give us a little history on how that occurred and how that is no longer happening. What happened along the way there?
Miriam: Chlorpyrifos was widely used under the name Dursban to combat roaches in homes. And it was used extensively in New York City and other places and created clouds of this poison in people’s homes and actually, started sending children to the Emergency Room. Those poisonings is what led to an effective ban on the use of chlorpyrifos in the home. Real concern about children’s health from exposure in the home to these pesticides resulted in the ban of chlorpyrifos in the home, but allowed the chlorpyrifos to continue to be used in agriculture.
Miles: Do we know how many kids were affected,poisoned, lifelong injuries in that context of home usage?
Miriam: There are a number of case studies. Some of them horrific, you know, children going to the Emergency Room with acute poisoning. Some of them — actually showing neurodevelopmental harm to their nervous system later in life.
Overall, the evidence was so compelling that EPA was about to ban it and the company that’s in charge actually pulled it from the market.
Miles: So, the EPA was poised to ban and Dow said maybe we should pull this one and maybe, I guess, potentially preserve it for uses elsewhere? Is that the thinking you think? Was our backroom deal here?
Miriam: I wasn’t there. That’s exactly what did happen. Dow pulled the home uses and they were effectively banned and it was continued to be allowed to be used in agriculture.
Miles: So, presumably that’s the bigger share of revenue anyway, and so maybe, that was the trade off they made.
Miriam: Definitely a bigger share of the revenue both here in the United States and globally.
Miles: Okay. So, in the context of an agricultural setting, is there a safe way to use this chemical potentially?
Miriam: EPA’s evaluation in November, this past November definitively said no. Definitely said that there was no way that they saw use of chlorpyrifos meeting their requirements for safety.
Miles: That’s a pretty categorical statement. Tthey based this statement on what? What led them to that conclusion?
Miriam: They did an update to their health assessment. And the update to the health assessment said we’re going to look at what is the exposure level that we need to set, the sort of upper level, that would protect the developing brain from the risk of learning disabilities. They did their assessment to set that level. And then they looked at all the exposures. And what they found was all the exposures were way above that level. And that’s how they came to the finding that there was no use that would meet their requirements for safety.
Miles: A couple of a few buckets of concern here. First of all, there would be the occupational exposure. What are the risks and is there any way to protect against it in an occupational context?
Miriam: So, farm workers are definitely at front center in terms of risk. And in fact, farm workers are regularly poisoned by chlorpyrifos. In California, the most recent estimate was over the past decade or so, we’re looking at two dozen poisonings a year. Mostly farm workers, though sometimes community members as well.
So, this is a regular occurrence in California and likely, other places in the United States, however, we don’t have as good monitoring but organophosphates and chlorpyrifos in particular regularly tops the list for chemicals that result in poisoning of farm workers.
There’s protective equipment that the folks who actually apply the pesticide are required by law to wear.
EPA’s analysis when they looked at worker safety said, “There’s no amount of protective equipment that would protect workers sufficiently.
Miles: Again, underscoring how potent of a chemical this is.
Miles: The next bucket of concern would be people who live in proximity to — or go to school or whatever, civilians who are near agricultural fields. How big an area of concern is that for you?
Miriam: Very concerned. That’s the next sort of — if you’re going out from the center of the farm workers you’re talking about, mostly agricultural communities that live very close, the buffer zones around the limits about — how you can apply chlorpyrifos — we’re talking 100 feet, 300 feet. We’re not talking about miles.
This pesticide is being applied very close to where people live and where people go to school. We have a lot of data from places like California and also Washington State showing elevated levels of chlorpyrifos in the air, in the water, in the dust in people’s home, in people’s bodies, in these communities.
We know that those levels are above what the rest of the American population is exposed to, and we have studies that have come out showing increased risk of learning disabilities in those children.
Miles: So have you kind of overlaid the geography with the incidences of learning disabilities, et cetera and there seemed to be a pretty clear correlation there?
Miriam: So that was done in one study here in California, specifically trying to look at autism. And it’s a whole study trying to get at what are some of the environmental exposures that could increase the risk of autism. And what that study found was that women who were pregnant and living in close proximity to chlorpyrifos had about a threefold increase risk of having a child with autism.
Miles: Next bucket of concern. What about those of us eating produce? Is this getting to our kids, to us? Ultimately downstream, where we go to buy fruit or produce of some kind at the market.
Miriam: Unfortunately, when chlorpyrifos is used, it results in residue on a lot of fruits and vegetables, and fruits, in particular, that children really love. We’ve known for a long time that — if you don’t live in agricultural community — that you’re being exposed to organophosphates and chlorpyrifos predominantly through food.
We know that it leaves a residue in all our favorite fruits and vegetables. It actually leaves a residue under the rind of an orange. When it’s peeled and tested, its still found to have chlorpyrifos residue. We also know that they’ve put kids on taking their conventional diet, measured basically the breakdown product of chlorpyrifos in their urine.
Then put them on an organic diet and measured that same residue and it drops dramatically. And as soon as you go back to the conventional diet, it’s back up to where it was before.
So, there’s no ambiguity about the role of the diet in terms of exposure from chlorpyrifos. We know that that’s coming. What happened in November’s assessment that shifted that conversation was now, we’re looking at what’s the safe level to protect against learning disabilities that low level of exposure. And when EPA did their assessment about those residues on fruits and vegetables and compared to that level to protect learning disabilities, they found that exposures through food alone were enough to cause an increased risk of learning disabilities.
Miles: Do we have any idea how many children we’re talking about? Are we talking about huge hunks? I mean anybody who eats produce? Has some of this?
Miriam: Yes. It’s regularly found. It’s found on apples, it’s found on berries, it’s found on strawberries, it’s found on oranges, it’s found on broccoli. This is in the American diet at levels that put the developing brain of children at risk.
Miles: A couple of words on why young people are more susceptible and should be of more concern. I mean their nervous system is still developing. A few words on that.
Miriam: There’s an increasing body of science that shows that the developing brain of children is very sensitive to chemicals in the environment. That exposures prenatally while the brain is developing as well as during early childhood can lead to learning problems much later in life. And the example that many people are familiar with this is lead, right?
Children’s brains are developing, they’re growing very rapidly and lead harms the way that that brain develops. We understand that that results in learning troubles later in life. Organophosphates operate in a very similar way. In the sense that we know that exposures during those sensitive periods whether it’s during while they’re in the womb or whether it’s later during early childhood can have long lasting implications for a child’s ability to learn.
Miles: You know, the thing about lead, too, is every time they look at it again and look at — they kept the threshold would be high and it kept going down, down, down. I think they finally come to conclusion that really it has no safe level of lead. Are we at that point? Is there enough science to say that about chlorpyrifos?
Miriam: Some of the scientists who studied organophosphates and chlorpyrifos and also have studied lead, particularly the pediatricians will say to you that we’re getting close to that. This very much could look like lead in the sense that there may not be — no safe level.
Where we are right now in terms of EPA’s assessment was that they did set a level. It’s very low. But they did set a level that they said would protect against learning disabilities. Unfortunately, our current use of chlorpyrifos means that children across the country are exposed to levels above that.
Miles: Is there any way we can avoid this chemical?
Miriam: So, if you don’t live in an agricultural community and you’re just buying produce, the best way to protect your family is to buy organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible.
Miles: Which of course. It disadvantages in a socio-economic way, of course, right? Because it’s more expensive and again, we’re at disadvantaged communities that are more likely to take on board this poison.
Miriam: Exactly. The communities that are most impacted are farming communities. These are agricultural communities. They’re predominantly, at least in California, they’re predominantly Latino and low income. These folks have elevated levels on their food. They have a threat of drinking water contamination. They have unsafe levels in the air and they have chlorpyrifos in the dust.
So yes, this is definitely an environmental justice issue. This is injustice in a sense that the folks who are most at risk have the most to lose.
Miles: And have the smallest voice probably.
Miles: So, enter the NRDC. What are you guys doing about it to give them a megaphone?
Miriam: We have a number of different things that we’re doing. We’ve been acting to get the science on the dangers of chlorpyrifos into the public discussion, into policymakers and into the agency. That was why we filed a petition in 2007 telling EPA you are not looking at the — when you said chlorpyrifos could be used in agriculture.
You did not look at the levels that were low enough causing learning disabilities. And that was why we petitioned with the Pesticide Action Network in 2007 to ban chlorpyrifos in agriculture. Since then, and that’s almost a decade ago at this point, we’ve arguing to the EPA that the science needs to drive the decision. That we need to make sure that the Environmental Protection Agency uses the best science to make sure that the pesticides used are safe.
Where we are right now is that EPA after a decade or so, science caught up with the science coming out of research institutions. And everybody is saying the same thing. Chlorpyrifos is really dangerous. Chlorpyrifos harms children’s brains. Chlorpyrifos in agriculture is causing unsafe exposures. And EPA said…and it should be banned.
We cannot use it. It does not meet our threshold for safety. And now, we have an administration that’s refusing to follow that science.
Miles: Up until November 8th, if you would have expected EPA to do what? Up until November 8th, what would you have expected EPA to do?
Miriam: Up until then, EPA would have taken their science and then followed the law and said chlorpyrifos can no longer be allowed to be used in agriculture.
Miles: So basically, by the way the laws are written, the way the regulations are, the way the EPA does business, it lead them to a decision to ban this, right?
Miriam: To ban the pesticide. Because pesticides are known to be toxic, we have laws that say, “You can’t use them if they’re not safe.” The Food Quality Protection Act says that EPA must find the pesticide to be safe if they’re going to allow it to be on food.
Miles: It’s interesting because I think pesticides stand apart in our country because other chemicals used in an industrial context are innocent until proven guilty. This is the other way around in food pesticides, is that right?
Miriam: Right. And that’s because pesticides are designed to be toxic. If they are not toxic, they don’t work.
Miles: What has happened since the new administration came in? Are they simply ignoring the law, the rules or is this something that’s — in their authority of purview as a new administration?
Miriam: What we saw from this new administration was a) an about face, a refusal to act on the findings of the scientists at EPA and a denial of the science. Administrator Pruitt decided in March that he was not going to move forward with the ban.
He offered no new science, no additional analysis; no findings that contradict the EPA’s previous assessment that chlorpyrifos could not be used safely, but decided that there would be no ban. And there would be no ban in the foreseeable future.
Miriam: NRDC, the Pesticide Action Network, and Earth Justice reviewed that announcement and filed suit with the court saying that that’s not how we do — that’s not how Environmental Regulations — that’s now how our courts work.
You can’t just say you’re not going to do something without any rationale. The court had mandated a decision on the safety of chlorpyrifos by March 31, 2017. Pruitt made an announcement in March saying that he wasn’t going to ban chlorpyrifos but made no decision on the safety of the chlorpyrifos.
We went back to the court and said, “This was not what you asked for. This is not what you mandated by March 31, 2017. You mandated a decision on the safety and that’s the basis of the lawsuit.”
Miles: So, where does it go from here then?
Miriam: We are waiting for response from the court.
The court will rule on whether what EPA announced in March was lawful. Based on the court’s decision, we’ll see what EPA is required to do by the court.
Miles: The announcement wasn’t so much of a decision as it was and non-decision, and that’s the concern?
Miriam: That’s the concern. That by announcing that the ban would not go forward without providing any additional assessment of safety, it’s not a decision on the ban or decision really on the safety. In fact, it was just an announcement that he’s going to delay further.
Pruitt basically gave himself an extra extension and said, “I’m not deciding on the safety. And in fact, I don’t plan on deciding on the safety.”
Miles: That doesn’t sound like those are the rules. I mean, we should respect the rules a little, shouldn’t we?
Miriam: Yes. We expect our EPA Administrator to be following the rules. There are rules for a reason — there are administrative rules to keep our government responsive to our citizens, and there are laws that are set to protect public safety from pesticides.
And we need an administrator who’s following the rules and the law and the science.
Miles: Presumably a man who has sued the EPA 13 times at least knows a little bit about the rules.
Miriam: Unfortunately, this is consistent with a lot of what’s coming out of this Administrator. Administrator Pruitt has repeatedly, repeatedly questioned the science of career EPA scientists, repeatedly said that science is uncertain despite many, many, many studies.
The pattern on chlorpyrifos unfortunately fits a pattern of an administrator that is not acting to protect public health from chemicals in the environment.
Miles: How urgent is this issue right now?
Miriam: If you’re a parent, this is an urgent issue. It shouldn’t just be people who can afford to buy organic fruits and vegetables who get to have children who can succeed in school. That’s what this boils down to in terms of the American population. Children who don’t have the opportunity to eat fruits and vegetables that don’t have chlorpyrifos are at an increased risk of learning disabilities.
We have laws to level that playing field. The law says that you cannot use pesticides if they can’t be used safely, and if these pesticides are harming children’s brains, interfering with their ability to learn, then they cannot be used safely.
Miles: So, what are you guys doing right now? What’s going on? Take us inside the fight and where you are.
Miriam: You know what federal EPA isn’t the only entity in charge of pesticide safety.
Miriam: California has the authority to ban chlorpyrifos in the State of California, which would be a huge benefit for Californian children who live right next to fields, who go to school right next to fields, who are regularly exposed to levels that put them at an increased risk of learning disabilities.
Banning chlorpyrifos in California would also cut out a huge chunk of the market. California uses about 20% of the nation’s total which results in residues on lots of fruits and vegetables that are served across the country.
Miles: Are you in the process of pushing that through or where does that stand?
Miriam: We are in the process of pushing that through. And actually, advocates in California have been asking Cal EPA to ban chlorpyrifos for a long time.
It’s not new that the chlorpyrifos is harmful in California. We have a lot of studies, we have a lot of poisoning events. This is something communities have been worried about for an incredibly long time.
Unfortunately, we haven’t seen leadership from the Department of Pesticide Regulation which is the subcomponent of the California EPA that’s responsible for pesticide safety in California.
And so right now, we, along with children’s advocates, community advocates, worker advocates are looking to the Governor for leadership.
Miles: And has the Governor weighed on this one yet?
Miriam: Not yet.
Miles: Okay. So, this is still early as far as the statewide goes. Remind me the chronology of this fight to ban chlorpyrifos. Actually, if you go back to the home use, it dates back how long now?
Miriam: So, the home use was banned in 2000. A lot of those poisoning events started and concerns started being raised in the ‘90s.
The Food Quality Protection Act was passed in 1996. So, it really increased the protections for children from pesticides in the United States. We filed a petition in 2007 arguing that the agricultural uses aren’t safe, and that EPA — when they said they were safe, didn’t look at the right science.
2016 is when we saw EPA’s assessment. It really showed that chlorpyrifos could not be used safely for agricultural communities and for children across the country.
Miles: It’s a long time. That’s a lot of exposures, isn’t it?
Miriam: A lot of exposure.
Miles: So, what was this science that the EPA used to allow agricultural usage for chlorpyrifos? Where did that come from? Was that industry science? Where did it come from?
Miriam: It is industry science and it’s actually based on animal studies. So, it’s based on rats and that’s a way lot of pesticide safety assessments are conducted, and studies done by Dow which is the main producer of chlorpyrifos
And those animal studies looked at what level would protect against that kind of poisoning that we saw, which is the sort of nervous system over firing. And that level is what they used to set what’s an okay level of exposure.
That was done in 2006. It was done in 2000 and then again, in 2006. Where they said it’s okay, it’s okay to use in agriculture. We looked at that science and said, but there’s science that shows that that level in rats is above the level where these studies in humans are showing effects.
And so, that level can’t be okay and can’t be used to say that chlorpyrifos is okay in agriculture. And that’s the basis of our petition. We argued that in 2007 that EPA was missing some of the science and as a result, potentially allowing exposures that in human studies, in epidemiologic studies, were showing impacts. And since 2007, that science has only gotten stronger. We have more studies. We have some of these studies that children have grown older and the impacts to their learning are even more profound.
We also have parallel studies in animals also showing that chlorpyrifos can cause harm to the developing brain. So, all of that science has continued to increase. EPA has been reviewing that science over this period of time, and has actually consulted experts, multiple, independent scientific reviews.
Each one of them have consistently weighed in that there’s harm at levels below the level that was seen in those rats. And so what was so important about what happened in that November assessment is that’s the first time that EPA set that critical level to protect against the impacts that were seen in real children, in real human studies as opposed to relying on those rats.
Miles: So, this is a classic case where you’ve got the compromise that is the rodent studies versus the epidemiological studies in that, trying to jive those two is oftentimes where industry has some opportunities to raise ambiguity that may not exist in the real world.
Miriam: And quite honestly, the science has actually been fairly clear that our ability to detect learning disabilities in rats isn’t quite the same as our ability to detect learning disabilities in children. And industry has been arguing and Dow has been arguing that we should ignore those studies showing harm in children, and we should only talk about that level in those rats.
If you just explain that to an average person worried about their kids, it seems on its face ridiculous.
Miles: Yes, assessing the IQ level of rat is an interesting proposition, isn’t it?
Miriam: Or a rat with a learning disability that makes — or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As much as some of our behavioral scientists who look at rats think that they can do that.
The science is pretty clear. And the actual very sensitive measure which is called working memory which is what EPA used to set that threshold. And studies have repeatedly shown that working memory is actually a better predictor for academic success than IQ alone.
Miles: Looking at it, it’s this clear cut as science gets, isn’t it?
Miriam: So, I speak with scientists all the time, and not all of them follow the inner workings at EPA. And when I speak to them, they say to me chlorpyrifos is still allowed to be used? Chlorpyrifos, we know chlorpyrifos is not safe and we have science that shows that chlorpyrifos is harmful to the developing brain. And when you look at the scientific community and you look at the medical community, we’re talking about the American Academy of Pediatrics, we’re talking about children’s advocates and educators and medical professionals, they’re saying that this type of pesticide that causes these harms to the developing brain should not be on our fruits and vegetables and should not be in the air, water and in our communities.
Miles: Here’s the big question though — do you buy things differently for one thing?
You said you have a two-year-old, right? What do you do to avoid it? Do you have the luxury of buying organic? What do you do?
Miriam: So, I’ve been working on pesticides for a number of years. The more you learn about pesticides, the more worried you got about pesticides in your family. Not only also about pesticides in my family but also — what are my purchases, what do they mean for the people who grew my food, who picked my food?
So, I have the ability to buy organic. And I have to say, you know, you can get out of that idea that you’re going to buy organic and then you start saying, “Well, maybe this, maybe that.” But as I learned more and more about chlorpyrifos and as I spoke with the communities on the frontlines, agricultural communities, it really shifted my buying because I do have the ability. I set aside extra money because it does cost extra money to buy organic produce based on the findings and based on my own — on the research that’s been done about the impacts of these pesticides in agricultural communities and the concern about residue coming home into my house.
Miles: So, look at the whole system here, a planet that’s going to have nine billion people someday, we need chemicals, don’t we? What are the alternatives when you’re weighing the big picture here against you know the need for food production to feed a planet versus these risks?
Miriam: Well we have clear laws about pesticides because we know they’re harmful. And so, it’s important that we take action where the science shows us we need to, to get chemicals off the market. We also need investment in non-toxic farming. We need farming that doesn’t poison the workers. We need farming that doesn’t results in toxic residues coming home in everybody’s grocery baskets and ending up on the plates of their children. We need careful assessment of chemicals.
And restrictions where the science shows that they are causing harm. And then we need our taxpayer dollars to not go towards propping up chemical companies, not towards defending toxic chemicals but actually investing in say, for agriculture. We need the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the California’s equivalent, every states equivalent to be looking at how do we help transition farmers to produce the food we need in a way that doesn’t poison the workers, communities and American public.
Miles: Can we do this — when you look at the whole system here, is this really possible? Can you imagine feeding a planet of nine billion people organically?
Miriam: It’s not the question here about whether organic is the only way to go. Organic is the only certainty we have right now when we have an Administrator hellbent on not following the law or following the science. And it’s a certification that we know there won’t be residues on that food.
What we haven’t seen what’s possible yet in terms of non-toxic farming. We aren’t doing that investment. What we do know, if you look back on the history is that every time action must be take in to improve the safety of pesticides or safety of agriculture. Alarm bells were wrong. This is the end, you know. If we don’t have this chemical, agriculture is going to leave California. Agriculture is going to flee the United States and that hasn’t happened. And so, I’ve no reason to think that banning a very toxic pesticide is going to have the catastrophic response in terms of the safety that’s being —
That the chemical enthusiasts, the chemical companies themselves are arguing. They’re providing no evidence to suggest that that’s going to happen and history doesn’t show that to be something that’s happened.
Miles: We shouldn’t accept this as something we have to accept.
Miriam: I’m a public health advocate. My job is — what I do is to protect the public’s health, children’s health. I can’t accept the kind of farming results in learning disabilities. Just the same as we don’t accept that certain diseases result in learning disabilities or certain diseases plague the American public.
We act to create an environment that people will be safe, and pesticides are no different. I can’t accept that there is only a toxic form of farming where we have to — in order to move forward in our society, some people have to suffer.
That is unacceptable from a public health perspective.
Miles O’Brien: I’m always trying to look on the bright side, and if there’s a silver lining to the EPA abdicating its role as a protector of environment, it could be that the states are starting to take action on their own. Just the other day, the governor of the state Hawaii, David Ige, signed a law banning all uses of chlorpyrifos in the Aloha state within the next five years.
California, which is the biggest use of the chemical by far, is also considering its own statewide ban. It would be nice to have an EPA that did what its name suggests, protect the environment. But these days it’s more like the IPA, the Industry Protection Agency. Maybe concerned people at the state level can circumvent this troubling trend in Washington, however.
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