Between devastating hurricanes, ongoing Russia investigations and White House staffing musical chairs, it’s been difficult to track policy decisions by the Trump administration. Even so, a handful of recent chemical-related decisions stand out.
Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt has shunned a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics to ban use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food crops. The Academy made the recommendation after peer-reviewed studies determined even minuscule amounts of the chemical can negatively impact brain development of fetuses and infants.
For the past four years government scientists have studied three pesticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — and have produced more than 10,000 pages of evidence that these chemicals pose a risk to nearly every critically threatened or endangered species they studied, which included more than 1,800 frogs, fish, birds and mammals.
After Pruitt chose to disregard the Academy and ignore scientific research, pesticide manufacturers (including Dow Chemical Co., which produces chlorpyrifos and wrote a $1 million check to underwrite Trump’s inauguration) had their lawyers approach the government to ask that reams of findings be set aside.
Dow sells about 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos annually in the U.S., making the chemical, derived from a Nazi Germany nerve gas, one of the most widely used pesticides. It is sprayed primarily on citrus, apple and similar crops, and traces are commonly found in drinking watersources. A UC Berkeley study said detectable levels of chlorpyrifos was present in 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples.
The Obama administration had hoped to build on the restrictions placed on pesticide diazinon by the Bush administration in 2005. The Bush White House banned residential use of diazinon due to human health risks, but allowed industrial use to continue, pending further evaluation.
The 2013 explosion of a Texas fertilizer storage plant that killed 15 people, including a dozen first responders, and injured hundreds more was what led the EPA to strengthen safety protocols at similar facilities stocked with toxic or dangerous chemicals. The process took four years, with the Chemical Accident Safety Rule finalized in January. The rule includes measures such as robust accident investigation and prevention, and mandates information sharing with local emergency response teams.
The Trump administration has delayed implementation of these new rules until February 2019, prompting an 11-state lawsuit against the federal government. Iowa is one of the states that has joined the suit.
Safety experts believe, had this rule not been delayed, emergency responders dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey would have been better prepared to protect the public following explosions at an Arkema plant.
Likewise, only weeks after restrictions on chlorpyrifos use were rejected, more than 50 farmworkers were sickened by exposure to the chemical.
The drama of presidential tweets and executive branch infighting is entertaining, but we can’t allow it to overshadow the public ramifications of this administration’s policies.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Sept. 9, 2017. Photo Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters