Court tells EPA it's done "too little, too late" on toxic pesticide and orders decision on ban petition

In June 2015, a coalition of groups including NRDC and Pesticide Action Network took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to court because of their almost decade-long inaction on our petition to ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos. Today, the US 9th Circuit Court issued a strong ruling ordering EPA to either grant our petition and take action to ban chlorpyrifos, or deny our petition with a full explanation, in the next two months (by October 31, 2015).

The court's decision comes after EPA failed yet again to commit to a deadline for a final decision on the petition. The court document states:

EPA has spent nearly a decade reviewing Pesticide Action Network's data and arguments. Even in response to our unambiguous order directing EPA to specify a date for issuing a "final ruling" on the administrative petition, the agency has still not stated with certainty when it intends to take formal action to grant or deny it...EPA's response isn't a 'concrete timeline' for resolving the petition--it's a roadmap for further delay. EPA has stretched the 'rule of reason' beyond its limits.

The court also recognizes the need for swift action to address the serious risks posed by chlorpyrifos to human health:

Another factor that has moved the needle is the threat posed by chlorpyrifos to human health... in its latest status report, EPA reported that chlorpyrifos poses such a significant threat to water supplies that a nationwide ban on the pesticide may be justified. We do not take this representation lightly. Yet EPA offers no acceptable justification for the considerable human health interests prejudiced by the delay. In view of EPA's own assessment of the dangers to human health posed by this pesticide, we have little difficulty concluding it should be compelled to act quickly to resolve the administrative petition.

The risks to farmworkers, and EPA's apparent lack of a plan or process to mitigate these risks, are also of great concern to the court.

We couldn't agree more. The years have dragged on and EPA and the California state Department of Pesticide Regulation have dragged their feet. It's now been 15 years since EPA eliminated home uses of chlorpyrifos, a victory for children's health which NRDC helped win. But even then we knew that the home ban wasn't enough to protect the workers, rural communities and kids who continued to be in harm's way from the millions of pounds of chlorpyrifos applied to agricultural fields that can contaminate air and water. Every home, school, and playground, whether it is in rural California or the middle of San Francisco, should have safe water to drink and clean air to breathe. We hope that with this order, we'll finally see swift and meaningful action to protect all people from this hazardous, neurotoxic pesticide.

About the Authors

Veena Singla

Staff Scientist, Health & Environment program

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