EPA: No Chlorpyrifos Ban

EPA Disagrees with Previous Administration's Tack on Pesticide

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Wednesday announced the agency denied a petition filed by environmental groups to ban chlorpyrifos outright, saying in a statement that farmers need the pesticide. (Logo courtesy of EPA)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The pesticide ingredient chlorpyrifos will not be banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a news release issued by the agency late Wednesday afternoon.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency denied a petition filed by environmental groups to ban the pesticide outright, saying in a statement that farmers need chlorpyrifos.

"We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment," Pruitt said in a statement.

"By reversing the previous administration's steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making rather than predetermined results."

Chlorpyrifos is the main ingredient in Lorsban, Dow AgroSciences' organophosphate insecticide targeting pests such as soybean aphids, spider mites and corn rootworm.

Since being sworn in as EPA administrator, Pruitt has begun the process of turning back regulations created during the previous administration.

Dow AgroSciences said in a statement to DTN Wednesday evening that the company was pleased with EPA's decision.

"Dow AgroSciences supports U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision to deny the petition to revoke U.S. food tolerances and cancel the registration of chlorpyrifos," the company said in its statement.

"Dow AgroSciences remains confident that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety. This is the right decision for farmers who, in about 100 countries, rely on the effectiveness of chlorpyrifos to protect more than 50 crops. We will continue to cooperate with EPA under the established regulatory process in its scientific review of this vital crop protection solution."

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American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall Thursday said the decision was important to farmers.

"Farmers nationwide depend on chlorpyrifos in managing their crops," he said in a statement. "It is widely and safely used for a wide range of crops, including alfalfa, citrus, vegetables, soybeans, almonds and others. It also protects hundreds of thousands of acres of grass seed production, where it controls aphids, cutworms and other pests. As USDA has noted, chlorpyrifos has been used as a part of environmentally friendly IPM (integrated pest management) programs for nearly 50 years."

AFBF was among a number of agriculture groups that filed public comments expressing concern about the EPA's approach.

Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at USDA, said in a statement it was important to keep chlorpyrifos available to farmers.

"This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science," she said. "It means that this important pest-management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.

"This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States. It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables."

In a news release Wednesday evening, EPA said "the public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on, and misapplication of, studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal."

The EPA said USDA "disagrees with the methodology" used by the previous administration.

"Similarly, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also objected to EPA's methodology," EPA said in its release.

"The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) also expressed concerns with regard to EPA's previous reliance on certain data the agency had used to support its proposal to ban the pesticide."

The road to the proposed chlorpyrifos ban began when the Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition in 2007 to force EPA to take action on chlorpyrifos, based on concerns over drinking water. In June 2015, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling pressuring EPA to make a decision by Oct. 31, 2015, on whether or not it would establish food tolerances for the insecticide. EPA stated it did not have the data needed to do so and instead would pursue a ban.

Last summer, EPA asked the court for a six-month extension to take final action.

In a final order issued Aug. 12, 2016, the court ruled against the request by EPA and ordered the agency to take action by March 31, 2017.

Most recently, the EPA revised its human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos in November 2016 to state that residues on food crops and in water are at unsafe levels.

There was concern that doing away with chlorpyrifos could at some point complicate the battle against insects, especially when growers are being encouraged to rotate chemistries to guard against insect resistance.

Corn accounts for chlorpyrifos' largest agriculture market as far as total pounds used because, overall, there are more corn acres than soybean acres, according to EPA. However, in recent years, use of chlorpyrifos has expanded in soybeans and has been on the decline in corn.

According to Dow AgroSciences' website, chlorpyrifos use in soybeans expanded from about 200,000 acres in 2004 to about 8 million acres in 2008. Dow estimated chlorpyrifos was applied to about 11% of soybean acres planted in 2008.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley