E.P.A. Rejects Its Personal Findings {That a} Pesticide Harms Kids’s Brains

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E.P.A. Rejects Its Own Findings That a Pesticide Harms Children’s Brains

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has rejected scientific evidence linking the pesticide chlorpyrifos to serious health problems, which directly contradicts the conclusions of federal scientists five years ago that it can stunt brain development in children.

The Environmental Protection Agency's assessment of the pesticide, which is widely found in soybeans, almonds, grapes and other crops, is a new victory for chemical manufacturers and the agribusiness, as well as the latest in a long list of regulatory setbacks by the Trump administration.

When announcing its decision, the E.P.A. said Tuesday that "despite several years of study, the science of neurodevelopmental effects remains unsolved." However, in making its finding, the agency ruled out several epidemiological studies, one of which was conducted at Columbia University, that found an association between prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and developmental disorders in young children.

As a result, the rating could be the first major test of the Trump administration's intent to prohibit or give less weight to scientific studies that may or may not publicly publish their underlying asset, often referred to as the "occult science" proposal. This controversial policy would eliminate many studies tracking the effects of exposure to substances on human health over long periods of time, as the data often includes subjects' confidential medical records, according to scientists.

The E.P.A. The rejected studies repeatedly referred to a lack of access to raw data and concluded that the results, although backed by other peer-reviewed studies, were inconclusive.

The E.P.A. has not yet finalized the regulation that would officially restrict the use of such studies in decision-making, but the Chlorpyrifos assessment suggests that the application has been further developed.

"This shows that E.P.A. completely abandoned any obligation to protect children from this extremely toxic chemical when its own scientists twice recommended banning it. Science is overridden by politics, ”said Erik D. Olson, senior director of health for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The environmental group Earthjustice accused the Trump administration of "falsifying the data" in order to reach its conclusion.

James Hewitt, a spokesman for the E.P.A., said in a statement that the agency "continues to be unable to verify reported results" of the Columbia study. Mr Hewitt said the agency plans to make an interim decision next month on how or whether to regulate chlorpyrifos, which will include additional changes "that may be needed to address risks to human health and the environment".

Environmental activists said the conclusion announced on Tuesday signals that the Trump administration is unlikely to impose strict regulations on the pesticide in next month's interlocutory ruling on the issue.

The Chlorpyrifos rating follows other E.P.A. tries to weaken the restrictions on toxic chemicals. The agency recently withdrew regulation of perchlorate, a water pollution linked to damage to the brain of the fetus, and decided last year not to ban asbestos because of objections from the agency's scientists.

The debate over the ban on chlorpyrifos goes back more than 13 years. In 2015, the Obama administration announced that, according to scientific studies by the E.P.A. showed that it has the potential to make farm workers sick and damage brain development in children. That ban had not yet come into effect when Scott Pruitt, then administrator of the E.P.A., reversed that decision in 2017, sparking a wave of legal challenges.

Ultimately, a federal appeals court ordered the E.P.A. to take a final decision on the ban on chlorpyrifos by July 2019. This month the E.P.A. under Wheeler rejected a petition from environmental and health groups to ban the pesticide, saying that "critical questions about the meaning of the data" regarding neurological damage in young children remained open.

The agency criticized the Obama administration's decision to ban the product based on epidemiological studies rather than direct animal testing.

A dozen environmental and work groups are suing the E.P.A. trying to enforce an immediate ban.

In a July hearing before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the E.P.A. argued that the agency does not deny that chlorpyrifos can cause neurodevelopmental effects. However, a lawyer for the agency argued that it was controversial which hazard was dangerous.

The agency said not being able to see Columbia University's raw data was problematic and prevented the E.P.A. from the independent evaluation of the results.

Lawyers advocating a ban on chlorpyrifos said the Columbia University researchers were willing to show their data to agency officials in a safe place, but had not made the information public for privacy reasons.

Several states, including California, New York and Hawaii, have already issued bans of varying degrees of severity. Corteva, the world's largest producer of chlorpyrifos, has announced that it will cease production of the chemical by the end of this year.

Gregg Schmidt, a company spokesman, said Corteva has already ceased production but said, "We stand by the safety of the product and its value to the grower community."

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