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Why it matters that Biden is banning a Trump-backed pesticide

"Elections have consequences" is a common political cliché, but in the case of a pesticide tied to children's health problems, it clearly applies.
Image: A foreman watches workers pick fruit in an Orchard in Arvin, California, in 2004.
A foreman watches workers pick fruit in an Orchard in Arvin, California, in 2004.Damian Dovarganes / AP file

"Elections have consequences" is a common political cliché, but in the case of a pesticide tied to children's health problems, it clearly applies. The New York Times reported overnight:

The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is banning a common pesticide, widely used since 1965 on fruits and vegetables, from use on food crops because it has been linked to neurological damage in children. The Environmental Protection Agency said this week it would publish a regulation to block the use of chlorpyrifos on food.

Let's circle back to our earlier coverage because it's worth appreciating how we arrived at this point.

The Obama administration originally proposed banning the use of chlorpyrifos on food in October 2015. A risk assessment memo issued by nine EPA scientists concluded. "There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neuro-developmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."

By all appearances, this wasn't an especially tough call. There was, after all, "extensive scientific evidence" that even small levels of exposure to this pesticide, used to keep pests off crops, "can harm babies' brains." There were related concerns about the health effects on the farmworkers who've been dispersing chlorpyrifos on crops.

And then Donald Trump took office. Just two months into the Republican administration, officials reversed course, putting the federal ban on hold, ignoring career officials in the EPA.

This, not surprisingly, sparked a series of legal challenges, in which Team Trump repeatedly sided with the chemical industry.

In the spring, an appeals court ruling concluded that the federal government had to either ban the use of the pesticide or prove that it's safe for public use. Yesterday, the Biden administration chose the former over the latter.

The Times' report added, "In an unusual move, the new chlorpyrifos policy will not be put in place via the standard regulatory process, under which the E.P.A. first publishes a draft rule, then takes public comment before publishing a final rule. Rather, in compliance with the court order, which noted that the science linking chlorpyrifos to brain damage is over a decade old, the rule will be published in final form, without a draft or public comment period."

Had the 2020 presidential election gone the other way, the fight almost certainly wouldn't be over, and the judgment of EPA scientists wouldn't be prevailing over the wishes of the chemical industry.

A Washington Post report added, "For now, chlorpyrifos can still be used for growing cotton and treating golf courses. The EPA will make a decision on whether to continue to allow for those and other nonfood uses by the end of next year."