NRDC Sues EPA Over Latest Refusal to Ban Pesticide Toxic to Kids’ Brains

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must ban chlorpyrifos—a pesticide linked to learning disabilities in children—from food in the U.S., according to litigation filed today in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by Earthjustice on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a coalition of labor and health organizations. It is the second lawsuit the groups have filed against EPA over the chemical since the Trump administration refused to take action in 2017.

“We will not stand by while the Trump administration fights to keep this poison on the food we feed our kids,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at NRDC. “EPA knows this stuff is toxic—its own scientists have been sounding the alarm for years now—but this administration is shameless in its push to keep it on the market. We are urging the court to side with children over a powerful chemical industry with friends in high places. Chlorpyrifos does not belong on our food or in our fields.” 

NRDC has been fighting for more than two decades to get chlorpyrifos out of our food supply, and first petitioned EPA to ban it in 2007. EPA was finally on track to ban it from use on food crops at the end of 2016, after agency scientists twice found that the chemical fails to meet safety standards and should be banned. Shortly after taking office, however, the Trump administration reversed course and continues to fight to keep it on the market, despite solid science—including from EPA’s own scientists—showing it harms the developing brain.

Together with partner groups, NRDC sued the Trump EPA in 2017 to get the ban back on track. This past April, the court ordered EPA to formally respond to objections raised by the groups. But instead of correcting course, last month the agency again confirmed it would not ban it.

This second lawsuit now argues it is illegal for the agency to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos because of the known risks to human, and especially children’s, health.

Adapted from World War II-era nerve gases, chlorpyrifos was banned by EPA from use in household products, like roach sprays, nearly two decades ago but is still widely used on many U.S. food crops, including children’s favorites like apples, oranges and strawberries.

EPA’s own assessment of the chemical’s risks shows that exposure to low levels of the pesticide in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay and ADHD. This assessment is based on dozens of scientific studies including from Dow Chemical, the nation’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos.

Farm workers and families in agricultural communities face disproportionate harm because the chemical is used so close to where they live, work and go to school—resulting in exposures from air, water and dust in their homes.

Dow Chemical has close ties to the President. Among other things, the company reportedly donated $1 million for Trump’s inauguration and its CEO previously played a chief advisory role to the president, heading up his now defunct “American Manufacturing Council.”

In the absence of federal protections, states are starting to stand up. Hawaii has already started the process to ban the chemical, this spring the New York state legislature passed a ban that awaits the Governor’s signature, and California has committed to a ban.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​