Scott Pruitt seems like the kind of guy who would dunk his first born in toxic waste just to demonstrate that it would survive. Still, his decision to reject a ban on a popular pesticide that's been shown to harm children's brains was a little surprising. On Tuesday, we found out that a cosy relationship with the pesticide's manufacturer may have influenced his thinking.
On March 29, the EPA administrator rejected a petition from the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defence Council to ban chlorpyrifos. The organophosphate pesticide has been in use since 1965 and in recent years, scientists have demonstrated repeatedly that it has negative effects on the development of children's brains.
Scientists at the EPA concluded that even in tiny doses chlorpyrifos can interfere with the development of children's brains and the levels in food were higher than they consider safe. Despite some interagency debate about conclusions by the chemical safety staff, a revised study still found that the pesticide should be banned. When Pruitt announced that he would deny the ban, he said, "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."
The EPA released Pruitt's March meeting schedule earlier this month following multiple FOIA requests and the Associated Press noticed something interesting. Just 20 days prior to rejecting the ban, Pruitt met with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. Dow manufactures chlorpyrifos and it also spent $US13.6 million ($18.1 million) on lobbying in 2016. From the Associated Press report:
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said Tuesday that Pruitt was "briefly introduced" to Liveris at the conference.
"They did not discuss chlorpyrifos," Bowman said. "During the same trip he also met with the Canadian minister of natural resources, and CEOs and executives from other companies attending the trade show." ...
Though his schedule for the intervening months has not yet been released, Bowman said Pruitt has had no other meetings with the Dow CEO. There was a larger group meeting that Pruitt attended which also included two other Dow executives, but she said that didn't involve chlorpyrifos.
Let's see what this Andrew Liveris looks like:
You can tell which one's him because he's the guy being handed the pen. Trump handed him that ceremonial pen after signing an executive order stating that for every new regulation created, two had to be eliminated. According to the AP, Dow also donated $US1 million ($1.3 million) to Trump's underattended inauguration.
The next EPA review of chlorpyrifos is scheduled for October 2022. That's a long time for this chemical to do its damage. But not everyone has resigned themselves to accepting Pruitt's decision. On Tuesday, The American Academy of Pediatrics sent a letter to the EPA administrator requesting that he follow through with the pesticide ban. "There is a wealth of science demonstrating the detrimental effects of chlorpyrifos exposure to developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women," the group which represents 66,000 paediatricians and paediatric surgeons wrote. "The risk to infant and children's health and development is unambiguous."
Asked to respond, EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said, "Despite several years of study, EPA has concluded that the science addressing chlorpyrifos remains unresolved." At a hearing on Tuesday, Senator Tom Udall pressed Pruitt to offer any peer-reviewed evidence that the pesticide is safe. That's not really his style and he pivoted to saying that he based his decision on "interagency dialogue" with USDA. He could have just asked the scientists in his own agency, but he's been rapidly purging them from the ranks.