Pesticide reform

A federal appeals court ruled in August that the Environmental Protection Agency must ban a widely used organophosphate pesticide.

The appellate court in the 9th Circuit ordered the federal agency to finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos based on findings that the pesticide is unsafe for public health — and particularly harmful to children and farmworkers.

“The court ended EPA’s shameful actions that have exposed children and farmworkers to this poison for decades,” Earthjustice attorney Marisa Ordonia said. “Finally, our fields, fruits and vegetables will be chlorpyrifos free.”

Chlorpyrifos — first developed by the Nazis for chemical warfare and repurposed for agriculture — is a pesticide that can damage the developing brains of children. Prenatal and early life exposure is linked to lower birth weight and neurodevelopmental harms, including reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders and delayed motor development. 

The pesticide is used on apples, oranges, broccoli and dozens of other crops, but has been banned from household use for about two decades.

A year ago, the Trump administration reversed the EPA proposal to ban chlorpyrifos after Scott Pruit, who was in charge of the EPA, met with the head of Dow Chemical, the largest manufacturer of the compound.

Sindy Benavides, the chief executive officer at the League of United Latin American Citizens, said, “For years corporations like Dow were able to hijack our government to put profit before people. But … the court sided with reason. Children and farmworkers have the right to live and work without risk of poisonings.”

Rounding up a loss

In another legal dispute, this one over the herbicide Roundup, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million to a former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, who said Monsanto’s Roundup left him dying of cancer.

Johnson’s complaint said heavy contact with Roundup — the active ingredient in the product is glyphosate — caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

A state superior court jury agreed, finding that Monsanto should have provided a label warning of the potential health hazard.

Johnson’s attorney, Brent Wisner, also has filed a case in Wisconsin. He said, “A unanimous jury in San Francisco has told Monsanto: ‘Enough. You did something wrong and now you have to pay,’ There’s 4,000 other cases filed around the United States and there are countless thousands of other people out there who are suffering from cancer because Monsanto didn't give them a choice. We now have a way forward.’”

Monsanto spokesman Scott Partridge said the company would appeal, according to The Associated Press. Partridge noted scientific studies and two government agencies concluded that Roundup does not cause cancer.

Across the border

Also in August, the Canadian government announced plans to phase out all outdoor agricultural uses of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides by 2021.

Previously, the European Union voted to ban the use of those pesticides on outdoor crops.

In the United States, however, the EPA has not taken such action despite receiving more than 6 million public comments urging a ban on the class of pesticides.

Not the breakfast of champions

Lab tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group headquartered in Washington, D.C., found favorite oat cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars contain glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.

Glyphosate is a herbicide linked to cancer by California state scientists and the World Health Organization. It was found in all but two of 45 samples of products made with conventionally grown oats. About one-third of 16 samples made with organically grown oats also contained glyphosate, but with levels well below EWG’s health benchmark. For more, go online to ewg.org.

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