Court orders EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage in children

The 2-to-1 decision vacates an order made by former EPA chief Scott Pruitt earlier this year to allow the pesticide’s continued use on farms.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban nearly all use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in a 2-to-1 ruling.

In a decision that’s sure to please environmentalists and farmworker justice advocates, the court vacated EPA’s 2017 decision “to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children.” Of particular importance, EPA was also ordered to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos within 60 days.

Chlorpyrifos is commonly sprayed on a wide range of common crops, including corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, and more, to control against soil-borne insects.

Previously, under the Obama administration, EPA had begun working toward a ban on the widely used chemical, following the results of a 2016 agency study that showed exposure to chlorpyrifos posed health risks to fetuses and children, as well as to agricultural workers.

However, in March of this year, then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt rejected the findings of his own agency, and ordered a reversal on the chlorpyrifos ban. According to the Associated Press, Pruitt had met briefly with Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, which manufactures chlorpyrifos, just weeks before he ordered the ban reversal. AP has since issued the following correction to that story: “A spokeswoman for the EPA says the meeting listed on the schedule was canceled, though Pruitt and Liveris did have a “brief introduction in passing.” (Pruitt had been nominated EPA chief by President Donald Trump in 2017, but Pruitt resigned in July of this year, after months of ethics scandals unrelated to chlorpyrifos.) Also of note: After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Dow Chemical made a $1 million contribution to the president’s inaugural committee.

After Pruitt’s reversal, a coalition of farmworker-justice associations filed a lawsuit against  EPA to overturn it. They were represented by Earthjustice, a non-profit litigation group focused on environmental issues, and the suit was soon joined by numerous states, including New York, Washington, and California, as well as the District of Columbia.

This ruling comes at the very same moment another product made by one of the world’s largest agrochemical companies—Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, which contains the controversial ingredient glyphosate—is under intense legal scrutiny. A California jury this week is deliberating whether or not years of use caused school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. It is the first such case to go to trial.

Also tagged


Jessica Fu is a staff writer for The Counter. She previously worked for The Stranger, Seattle's alt-weekly newspaper. Her reporting has won awards from the Association of Food Journalists and the Newswomen’s Club of New York.