Is the EPA hazardous?

In an economically/socially-advanced pluralistic society, like the United States, the integrity of the EPA should never need to be questioned. However, simply posing the thought “whether the EPA is hazardous” suggests a disquieting response.

As such, and if true that the EPA is hazardous to health, it is incumbent upon the public to root out and toss out perpetrators because a democracy, or an autocracy for that matter, should never allow public servants to knowingly harm/kill/maim its own people.

Still, according to Karen Perry, senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists:

This EPA is not interested in protecting people from harmful pesticides. It’s more interested in bowing to the wishes of Dow [Agrochemical].1

Scott Pruitt is the first, and only, anti-proponent EPA leader. He opposes EPA regulators and EPA regulations, as he methodically decimates the agency. Scientists are fleeing like locusts in spring.

Disturbingly, it is reported that Pruitt gave a closed-door speech to the Heritage Foundation a week ago, outlining policy changes that will, in many instances, hogtie the EPA from advancing regulations by forcing it to publicly disclose all data. However, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

A lot of the data that EPA uses to protect public health and ensure that we have clean air and clean water relies on data that cannot be publicly released.2

For example, some scientific research, especially in areas of public health, involves longitudinal studies that are so large and of great duration that they could not realistically be reproduced. As a consequence, under Pruitt’s alleged new approach, such studies would not be allowed to influence policy decisions, putting the public at undue risk.

Wherefore, the EPA is one of the primary downsizing targets of “Trump Deconstructionism,” as defined by Steve Bannon at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), to wit: Trump’s cabinet picks are aimed at “Deconstruction of the Administrative State.”

Additionally, by all appearances, Trump’s cabinet picks are instructed to side with big corporations as, for example, Pruitt rejecting in March 2017 the EPA’s own scientists’ recommendations to ban chlorpyrifos, a base chemical used in many pesticides. The EPA previously banned it for household use in 2000, but it ubiquitously continues in fields around the world. All-over it covers the planet.

The State of California classifies chlorpyrifos within the category: “Most Dangerous Chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm.” The Obama administration implemented a process for an all-out ban of the chemical scheduled for March 2017.  Subsequently, Pruitt ignored the advise of his own EPA scientists.

However, Pruitt defends his actions, saying deregulatory efforts are in the interest of “cooperative federalism,” meaning the states should take on more regulations. But, what if the states are not up to speed, properly funded, and staffed to effectively regulate environmental issues? Then, what happens?

And of equal or of more concern, what if Pruitt ignores his own agency recommendations about public safety vis a vis chemicals? What are law-abiding citizens to do?

It’s an open question… wide open!

What to do?

For starters, consideration should be given to research. For example, shortly after Pruitt lifted his department’s scheduled ban, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claimed:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific analysis showed that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children through sprayed fruits and vegetables could exceed safety levels by 140 times. Yet Trump’s EPA is refusing to move forward with its previously proposed ban of the pesticide. Accordingly, NRDC headlines: “What’s at Stake… The Science is Clear… Chlorpyrifos is Dangerous.”

According to the Pesticide Action Network, chlorpyrifos is a globetrotter found in surface water and ice in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea, and in Alaskan snow, and fish in Alaskan parks, and in subarctic lakes, as well as in the Arctic Ocean.  Over time, as the chemical leaches into the planet, it travels the world.

Earth Justice opposed Pruitt’s rejection of the ban, saying: “It [EPA] is acting contrary to the law, the science, and a court order. In a word: unconscionable,” according to Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Earth Justice, which org appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to order the EPA to act “based upon its own scientific conclusions and permanently ban chlorpyrifos.” At the end of the day, the court refused to enforce EPA’s own directive to ban the chemical.

Furthermore, according to Earth Justice, in November 2016, EPA scientists released a revised human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, stating: “There are no safe uses for the pesticide.”

Yet, the chemical is found in apples, oranges, strawberries, corn, wheat, citrus, broccoli and other foods. Even after washing and peeling melons and fruit, residue of the chemical is found.

The attorneys general of (1) New York, (2) California, (3) Washington, (4) Massachusetts, (5) Maine, (6) Maryland, and (7) Vermont filed an appeal, calling for the ban to be enforced.

Last year Senators Udall (D-NM), Gillibrand (D-NY), Booker (D-NJ), Blumenthal (D-CT), Harris (D-CA), Durbin (D-ILL), Cardin (D-MD) and Markey (D-MA) introduced a “first of its kind bill” to ban the chemical.

On the other side of the equation, chlorpyrifos is, and has been for over 50 years, an effective pesticide for agriculture, recreational parks, and golf courses… but is it dangerously harmful? Remarkably, the answer to that question remains controversial in the face of considerable evidence of human health hazards.

There is a better and safer way. Many farmers in California have eliminated chlorpyrifos, as well as other harmful pesticides, by adopting integrated or ecological pest management practices. Already in California every crop that previously relied upon toxic pesticides, like chlorpyrifos, to some extent is grown organically. California produces nearly one-half of organic commodities sold in the U.S. No toxic pesticides needed.

All of which raises the provocative question: If food can be grown without harmful pesticides and if there is scientific evidence that a pesticide, like chlorpyrifos, is dangerous to human health, why doesn’t the EPA follow through on the Obama administration recommendation to ban it?

Further to the point of human health and governmental directives and/or suggestions, according to a United Nations report, the idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is “a myth.”3

More to the point, the UN report says that pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole.” That eye-opener includes 200,000 deaths per year from acute poisoning.

According to the UN report:

Persistent use of pesticides, in particular agrochemicals used in industrial farming, have been connected to a range of adverse health impacts, both at high and low exposure levels… In some countries, pesticide poisoning even exceeds fatalities from infectious diseases.

Not only is human health directly at risk, early in 2016 one-hundred (100) nations met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss an alarming development, a rapidly accelerating loss of the world’s pollinators, such as bees, flies, beetles, moths, butterflies, wasps, ants, birds, and bats among others, as a result of global pesticide contamination, climate change, and habitat loss. In some instances, 75% of a pollinator population species has already been wiped-out. That alone meets the definition of “an extinction event.”

At Kuala Lumpur, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services produced the first-ever global assessment of the damage to the world’s pollinators, which are an absolute necessity for pollination of 80% of human food. The conclusion of the intergovernmental meeting was grim, as many pollinators are already near total extinction!

Ergo, the risks of massive human starvation increase proportionately with loss of pollinator species. As a consequence, life on the planet has never been so precarious with so little public awareness.

In that regard, a spectacular documentary film Human Flow (2018 Oscar documentary nominee) by Ai Weiwei, the renowned Chinese artist and consultant for the Beijing National Olympic Stadium (2008), brings to the screen a sense of awareness of what the future holds for masses of people involved in the perpetual search for survival, as sixty-five million people transmigrate the world today. Yes, 65,000,000!

For the first time in the Earth’s history a single species – ourselves – is poisoning the entire planet.4

Postscript:

A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something of their nature and their power.

— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962).

  1. Leah Douglan, Environment, Civil Eats, February 5, 2018. []
  2. Timothy Cama, “Pruitt to Restrict the Use of Data to Craft EPA Regulations, The Hill, March 20, 2018. []
  3. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly, January 24, 2017. []
  4. Julian Cribb, “Surviving the 21st Century”, Springer Int’l Publishing AG, Switzerland, 2017. []
Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.