Despite a steady decline in the use of chlorpyrifos on corn, soybeans and other U.S. crops since 2000, a trio of environmental groups has sued the EPA, trying to force the agency to completely ban the use of the insecticide.
Environmental groups argue EPA has failed to comply with terms from earlier litigation to ban chlorpyrifos. The insecticide has been phased out of household use because of possible health dangers to children.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America, the groups make the case that EPA hasn’t fully responded to a 2007 petition and earlier litigation that pressed the agency to ban the use of chlorpyrifos not only for household uses, but from farm fields throughout the country.
The chemical is used in a number of products, most notably in Lorsban, a Dow AgroSciences product.
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide, acaricide and miticide used to control foliage and soil-borne insect pests on a variety of food and feed crops. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, its use has been steadily on the decline since 2000. Corn accounted for the single largest usage of the chemical for many years.
As of 2011, the latest data available from USGS shows orchards and grapes, as well as soybeans had overtaken corn as the top user. The chemical’s peak year of usage was in 1994 at around 13 million pounds, according to USGS. As of 2011, its use had fallen dramatically to just more than 5 million pounds. Chlorpyrifos is used to control cutworms, corn rootworms, cockroaches, grubs, flea beetles, flies, termites, fire ants and lice.
EPA initiated a phase out of the chemical for household use starting in 2000. In 2007 the environmental groups petitioned the agency to ban the chemicals from on-farm use.
“Over the past seven years, EPA has made commitments to PANNA (Pesticide Action Network North America) and the courts to resolve the 2007 petition and decide whether to ban chlorpyrifos by various deadlines,” the lawsuit said.
“Without fail, EPA has violated these commitments. When EPA failed to respond, PANNA filed its first lawsuit, leading to a stipulated deadline of Nov. 23, 2011, which EPA missed. The second lawsuit in the form of a petition for a writ of mandamus before this court extracted two promises from EPA: first, that it would respond by December 2012, and when that deadline passed, that it would fully resolve the petition by February 2014. In large part based on that commitment, which this court characterized as ‘concrete,’ this court declined to issue a writ of mandamus, but it explicitly stated that its denial was ‘without prejudice to seeking the same relief at a future date in the event EPA fails to act.’ EPA’s promised February 2014 deadline has come and gone without a final response to the 2007 petition.”
The groups asked the court to find that EPA has “unreasonably delayed” fulfilling its legal obligations and should compel the agency to issue a final decision by EPA’s newly promised timeline of December 2014 and summer of 2015.
“Rural children exposed to chlorpyrifos are often the children of farm workers, such that this harm falls disproportionately on children in low-income and minority communities,” the lawsuit said.