person spraying pesticide on a field

Pesticides

Keep­ing Amer­i­cans’ Food Safe

In 2015, in response to a 2007 peti­tion and the ini­ti­a­tion of lit­i­ga­tion by pub­lic health groups, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) agreed that the pes­ti­cide chlor­pyri­fos should be dis­al­lowed from use on food crops because of con­cern about human health impacts. The pes­ti­cide is used on more than 80 food crops, includ­ing apples, straw­ber­ries, and bananas, and has been shown to neg­a­tive­ly impact brain devel­op­ment and the func­tion­ing of the cen­tral ner­vous system.

The Ninth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals in Pes­ti­cide Action Net­work North Amer­i­ca v. Unit­ed States Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ordered the EPA to take final action on the pro­posed revo­ca­tion by the end of 2016

2017-2021

  • March 2017

    In March 2017, EPA Admin­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt reversed course, deny­ing the 2007 admin­is­tra­tion peti­tion and with­draw­ing the pro­posed revo­ca­tion, there­by allow­ing the pes­ti­cide chlor­pyri­fos to con­tin­ue being applied on food crops.

  • June 2017

    In June 2017, attor­neys gen­er­al from sev­en states filed their own admin­is­tra­tive objec­tion to the EPA’s March 2017 denial of the 2007 admin­is­tra­tive peti­tion and the rever­sal of the agency’s 2015 pro­posed rule as being unau­tho­rized by law and in vio­la­tion of two orders from the Ninth Circuit.

    On the same day in June 2017, the coali­tion of pub­lic health groups filed with the EPA an admin­is­tra­tive objec­tion to the agency’s March 2017 denial of the groups’ 2007 admin­is­tra­tive peti­tion and also filed a peti­tion for review in the Ninth Cir­cuit chal­leng­ing the March 2017 denial of the 2007 admin­is­tra­tive petition.

  • July 2017

    The next month, six attor­neys gen­er­al filed a motion to inter­vene in League of Unit­ed Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens et al. v. Pruitt, relat­ed to Pes­ti­cide Action Net­work North Amer­i­ca. League is the pub­lic health orga­ni­za­tions’ Ninth Cir­cuit chal­lenge to EPA’s March 2017 denial of the 2007 admin­is­tra­tive peti­tion. The lit­i­ga­tion asks the court to find that the EPA can­not con­tin­ue to allow chlor­pyri­fos on food crops unless and until it makes an affir­ma­tive human safe­ty deter­mi­na­tion. The motion to inter­vene was grant­ed in Decem­ber 2017. In March 2018, Cal­i­for­nia and Hawai’i were grant­ed their motion to inter­vene in League, along with the coali­tion of six oth­er states.

  • August 2018

    In August 2018, the Ninth Cir­cuit issued an opin­ion in League that direct­ed the EPA to ban the use of chlor­pyri­fos. The court found there was no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the EPA’s 2017 order allow­ing the use of the tox­ic pes­ti­cide in the face of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that its residue on food caus­es neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal dam­age to chil­dren. The EPA filed a request that the Ninth Cir­cuit grant en banc review; in Feb­ru­ary 2019, the Ninth Cir­cuit grant­ed the request for en banc review. Oral argu­ments in the en banc review were held in March 2019.

  • April 2019

    Less than a month lat­er, in April 2019, the Ninth Circuit’s en banc pan­el released an order which requires the EPA to respond with­in 90 days to the 2017 admin­is­tra­tive objec­tion regard­ing the EPA’s fail­ure to dis­al­low the con­tin­ued use of chlor­pyri­fos on food crops. In July 2019, the EPA met the 90 day court-man­dat­ed dead­line, but denied the admin­is­tra­tive objec­tions to its March 2017 denial of the pub­lic health groups’ 2007 admin­is­tra­tive peti­tion to dis­al­low the use of the pes­ti­cide on food crops.

  • August 2019

    In August 2019, New York led a coali­tion of six attor­neys gen­er­al in return­ing to the Ninth Cir­cuit and fil­ing a new law­suit chal­leng­ing the EPA’s July 2019 order. The attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed that the July 2019 order is arbi­trary and capri­cious and con­trary to law in numer­ous respects, includ­ing vio­lat­ing the Fed­er­al Food, Drug and Cos­met­ic Act’s (FFD­CA) require­ment that the EPA ensures that there is a rea­son­able cer­tain­ty that no harm will result to infants and chil­dren from aggre­gate expo­sure to pes­ti­cide chem­i­cal residues. Fur­ther, the order improp­er­ly con­tin­ued the EPA’s years-long efforts to delay address­ing the pes­ti­cide until at least the sum­mer of 2020 and the order unrea­son­ably depart­ed from the agency’s pri­or deter­mi­na­tions that chlor­pyri­fos could not be found to be safe.

    The day fol­low­ing the ini­ti­a­tion of the new law­suit, the eight states involved in the pre-exist­ing Ninth Cir­cuit lit­i­ga­tion (ini­ti­at­ed in June 2017), filed a motion in oppo­si­tion to the EPA’s motion to dis­miss their June 2017 com­plaint as the EPA argued that the release of the July 2019 order had made the lit­i­ga­tion moot. The attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed that deny­ing the motion to dis­miss and con­sol­i­dat­ing the June 2017 lit­i­ga­tion with the just-filed August 2019 lit­i­ga­tion would allow for the prompt res­o­lu­tion of the under­ly­ing dis­pute between the agency and the states over the EPA’s long-run­ning attempts to avoid dis­al­low­ing the use of the pes­ti­cide on food crops. In Octo­ber 2019, the court grant­ed the EPA’s motion to dis­miss and denied the states’ motion to con­sol­i­date the lit­i­ga­tion, but accept­ed the states’ August 2019 lawsuit.

  • Decem­ber 2019

    In Decem­ber 2019, the states filed their open­ing brief chal­leng­ing EPA’s July 2019 order. In their brief, the coali­tion asked the court to com­pel EPA to revoke chlor­pyri­fos tol­er­ances as it is the only relief avail­able that is con­sis­tent with FFDCA’s instruc­tion that the EPA may not leave tol­er­ances in effect with­out a find­ing that they are safe due to the agency’s repeat­ed vio­la­tion of this statu­to­ry provision.

Keep­ing Agri­cul­tur­al Work­ers Safe

Defend­ing the Agri­cul­tur­al Work­er Pro­tec­tion Standard

In 2015, the EPA strength­ened the Agri­cul­tur­al Work­er Pro­tec­tion Standard’s (WPS) train­ing require­ments, which were imple­ment­ed in 1992 to reduce the num­ber of ill­ness­es and injuries that agri­cul­ture work­ers suf­fer from expo­sure to dan­ger­ous pes­ti­cides. The 2015 updates includ­ed enabling agri­cul­ture work­ers to learn how to min­i­mize fam­i­ly mem­ber expo­sure to pes­ti­cides and access infor­ma­tion about the haz­ards posed by spe­cif­ic pesticides.

2017-2021

  • May 2018

    The EPA sus­pend­ed the new train­ing require­ments with­out fol­low­ing notice and com­ment pro­ce­dur­al require­ments. In May 2018, the attor­neys gen­er­al of New York, Cal­i­for­nia and Mary­land filed a law­suit against the EPA for delay­ing imple­men­ta­tion of WPS as arbi­trary and capri­cious in vio­la­tion of the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act (APA). In response, the fol­low­ing month, the EPA reversed course and announced its inten­tion to pub­lish the pes­ti­cide safe­ty train­ing mate­ri­als in the Fed­er­al Reg­is­ter. In March 2019, the Pes­ti­cide Reg­is­tra­tion Improve­ment Act was signed into law and requires EPA to imple­ment the WPS.

  • Novem­ber 2019

    In Novem­ber 2019, the EPA issued a pro­posed rule weak­en­ing pro­tec­tions pro­vid­ed by the 2015 WPS and alter­ing its Appli­ca­tion Exclu­sion Zone (AEZ) require­ments to allow pes­ti­cide appli­ca­tion in the pres­ence of work­ers and per­sons on near­by adja­cent prop­er­ties. In Jan­u­ary 2020, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leti­tia James and Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra led a coali­tion of sev­en attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing com­ments rais­ing con­cerns about the pro­posed rule. In their com­ments, the attor­neys gen­er­al high­light­ed that the EPA’s revi­sions to its AEZ require­ments reflect unjus­ti­fied and unsup­port­ed depar­tures from the EPA’s pri­or posi­tion under the WPS, lack suf­fi­cient eco­nom­ic analy­sis to jus­ti­fy the pro­posed revi­sions, and ignore the EPA’s oblig­a­tion to iden­ti­fy and address the dis­pro­por­tion­ate impact of the pro­posed rule on minor­i­ty and low-income communities.

  • Octo­ber 2020

    In Octo­ber 2020, the EPA issued the final rule. The final rule weak­ens AEZ require­ments, includ­ing exempt­ing imme­di­ate fam­i­ly mem­bers of farm own­ers from pro­tec­tion under the rule and mod­i­fy­ing the AEZ so it is applic­a­ble and enforce­able only on an agri­cul­tur­al employer’s property.

  • Decem­ber 2020

    In Decem­ber 2020, New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al James led a coali­tion of 5 states in fil­ing a law­suit in fed­er­al dis­trict court in New York chal­leng­ing the Octo­ber 2020 rule. The law­suit not­ed that the final rule vio­lates the APA because the EPA’s weak­en­ing of AEZ require­ments departs from the agency’s pri­or recent posi­tion with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Fur­ther, the Octo­ber 2020 rule vio­lates the APA because it is incon­sis­tent with the agency’s oblig­a­tions under the Fed­er­al Insec­ti­cide, Fungi­cide, and Roden­ti­cide Act (FIFRA) to pro­tect humans and the envi­ron­ment from unrea­son­able adverse effects of pes­ti­cides. The attor­neys gen­er­al request­ed that the rule be vacated.

Insist­ing on Prop­er Assess­ment of Dan­ger­ous Pesticides

Attor­neys gen­er­al have also insist­ed that the EPA prop­er­ly assess the health risks posed by the use of par­tic­u­lar pes­ti­cides by agri­cul­tur­al workers. 

2017-2021

  • Feb­ru­ary 2020

    In Feb­ru­ary 2020, the EPA released a draft human health risk assess­ment for the pes­ti­cide 1,3‑Dichloropropene (1,3‑D) — com­mon­ly known by the brand name Telone. 1,3‑D is a fumi­gant insec­ti­cide that is applied to soil before crops are plant­ed. More than 33 mil­lion pounds of 1,3‑D were applied on farms between 2013 and 2017, mak­ing it one of the nation’s most-used pes­ti­cides. Short term health impacts of 1,3‑D expo­sure include cough­ing, throat and lung irri­ta­tion, and dif­fi­cul­ty breath­ing, while long-term expo­sure is asso­ci­at­ed with an ele­vat­ed can­cer risk. The EPA’s draft risk assess­ment is part of a reeval­u­a­tion of the pesticide’s impacts on pub­lic health and the envi­ron­ment that the agency is required to con­duct every 15 years under FIFRA. In its assess­ment, the EPA down­grad­ed 1,3‑D’s can­cer risk rat­ing from like­ly to be car­cino­genic to humans” to sug­ges­tive evi­dence of car­cino­genic potential.”

  • April 2020

    In April 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra led a coali­tion of eight attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing com­ments urg­ing the EPA to revise its assess­ment. The coali­tion not­ed in par­tic­u­lar that down­grad­ing 1,3‑D’s can­cer risk rat­ing dan­ger­ous­ly ignores sci­ence and down­plays the risks indi­vid­u­als face when they are exposed to the pes­ti­cide. The attor­neys gen­er­al empha­sized that since at least the mid-1980s, the EPA and oth­er reg­u­la­tors have con­sis­tent­ly found that 1,3‑D is a like­ly human car­cino­gen. The coali­tion high­light­ed that farm­work­ers and neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly exposed to 1,3‑D due to the pesticide’s rapid dis­per­sal in the air after appli­ca­tion on farm­land, and that the EPA has a respon­si­bil­i­ty to such com­mu­ni­ties to accu­rate­ly describe the can­cer risks of 1,3‑D exposure.

Pro­tect­ing Endan­gered Species

2017-2021

  • May 2019

    In May 2019, the EPA pro­posed changes to the agency’s process for eval­u­at­ing risks posed by pes­ti­cides to endan­gered species. The pro­pos­al lim­its the scope of the agency’s review of the effects of pes­ti­cides on endan­gered species, includ­ing species on the brink of extinc­tion, and pre­cludes any analy­sis of the effects of cli­mate change” on the habi­tats of list­ed species.

  • August 2019

    In August 2019, New Mex­i­co Attor­ney Gen­er­al Hec­tor Balderas led a coali­tion of eleven attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing com­ments object­ing to the ill-advised changes.” The com­ments warned that the EPA’s pro­pos­al con­tra­venes the Endan­gered Species Act’s pol­i­cy of insti­tu­tion­al­ized cau­tion” by unlaw­ful­ly allow­ing the EPA to rely on incom­plete and unre­li­able data, unrea­son­ably restrict­ing the poten­tial habi­tat areas to be ana­lyzed that might be affect­ed by pes­ti­cide use. The attor­neys gen­er­al also point­ed out that the pro­pos­al cir­cum­vents con­sul­ta­tion with the agen­cies — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and the Nation­al Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice — that have the most species exper­tise and are charged with imple­ment­ing the Endan­gered Species Act.

Pro­tect­ing Pollinators

Floni­camid

2017-2021

  • Novem­ber 2019

    In Novem­ber 2019, the EPA released a draft risk assess­ment for floni­camid, a pes­ti­cide that is par­tic­u­lar­ly tox­ic to bees and is man­u­fac­tured by the Japan­ese cor­po­ra­tion ISK Bio­sciences (ISK). Reg­is­tered uses of floni­camid have been shown to expose bees to up to 51 times the amount of floni­camid that would cause them sub­stan­tial harm. In order for a pes­ti­cide to receive reg­u­la­to­ry approval for use, it must be reg­is­tered by the EPA pur­suant to FIFRA. Under FIFRA, the EPA must deter­mine that the pes­ti­cide will per­form its intend­ed func­tion with­out unrea­son­able adverse effects on the envi­ron­ment,” and that when used in accor­dance with wide­spread and com­mon­ly rec­og­nized prac­tice it will not gen­er­al­ly cause unrea­son­able adverse effects on the envi­ron­ment.” The EPA reeval­u­ates pes­ti­cide reg­is­tra­tions every 15 years, and as part of this review, the EPA can request addi­tion­al data and is able to sus­pend the reg­is­tra­tion if the request­ed data is not provided.

  • Jan­u­ary 2020

    Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra filed com­ments in Jan­u­ary 2020 crit­i­ciz­ing the EPA for an inad­e­quate review of the pes­ti­cide and called on the agency to present a full pic­ture of the pesticide’s envi­ron­men­tal impacts. In his com­ments, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra not­ed that despite uti­liz­ing new stud­ies show­ing that floni­camid pos­es a sig­nif­i­cant risk to pol­li­na­tors, the EPA failed to col­lect data from fur­ther fol­low-up stud­ies, as required under FIFRA, and now pro­pos­es to move the reg­is­tra­tion process for­ward with incom­plete infor­ma­tion. The com­ments urged the EPA to revise the draft eco­log­i­cal risk assess­ment to ful­ly char­ac­ter­ize flonicamid’s risks to pol­li­na­tors” by engag­ing in more exten­sive study of flonicamid’s impacts and requir­ing ISK to sub­mit the nec­es­sary fol­low-up studies.

  • Sep­tem­ber 2020

    In Sep­tem­ber 2020, the EPA released a pro­posed inter­im reg­is­tra­tion review deci­sion for floni­camid. The pro­posed deci­sion states that the man­u­fac­tur­er has com­mit­ted to con­duct­ing addi­tion­al, required pol­li­na­tor stud­ies, and that if any data from high­er-tier stud­ies changes any risk con­clu­sions, the EPA will address the issue in its final inter­im deci­sion. How­ev­er, the EPA has not com­mit­ted to actu­al­ly review­ing the data from high­er-tier stud­ies before issu­ing a final inter­im decision.

  • Novem­ber 2020

    In Novem­ber 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra filed com­ments urg­ing the EPA to review the fol­low-up stud­ies, revise its eco­log­i­cal risk assess­ment, pro­pose any nec­es­sary mit­i­ga­tion, and cir­cu­late its find­ings for pub­lic com­ment before issu­ing a reg­is­tra­tion deci­sion. Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra empha­sized that if the EPA moves for­ward before it can suf­fi­cient­ly char­ac­ter­ize flonicamid’s risks to pol­li­na­tors, it will vio­late the FIFRA require­ment that the EPA deter­mine flonicamid’s reg­is­tra­tion will not cause unrea­son­able adverse envi­ron­men­tal effects.

Sul­fox­aflor

Sul­fox­aflor is a pes­ti­cide that pos­es risks to pol­li­na­tors due to its tox­i­c­i­ty. Sul­fox­aflor was orig­i­nal­ly reg­is­tered under FIFRA in 2013. A suc­cess­ful court chal­lenge, how­ev­er, reversed its reg­is­tra­tion. Stud­ies sub­se­quent­ly demon­strat­ed that the pes­ti­cide is tox­ic to bees. 

2017-2021

  • July 2019

    Despite this, in July 2019, the EPA issued pes­ti­cide reg­is­tra­tions for numer­ous new uses of sul­fox­aflor and removed restric­tions on its use and on mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures that had pre­vi­ous­ly been in place. 

  • August 2019

    Envi­ron­men­tal groups filed a law­suit in the Ninth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals in August 2019 chal­leng­ing the EPA’s improp­er reg­is­tra­tion process.

  • Sep­tem­ber 2020

    In Sep­tem­ber 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra led a coali­tion of nine state attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing an ami­cus brief in sup­port of the law­suit. In their brief, the coali­tion high­light­ed the EPA’s fail­ure to pro­vide the pub­lic an oppor­tu­ni­ty to review and com­ment on the new appli­ca­tions for reg­is­tra­tion, dis­re­gard­ing crit­i­cal input from a vari­ety of stake­hold­ers. The reg­is­tra­tion deci­sion also harms states’ envi­ron­men­tal and eco­nom­ic inter­ests by under­min­ing states’ efforts to pre­vent pol­li­na­tor decline and plac­ing the reg­u­la­to­ry bur­den on states. The coali­tion also not­ed that the reg­is­tra­tion deci­sion vio­lates the Endan­gered Species Act (ESA) and urged the court to vacate the decision.

  • Octo­ber 2020

    In Octo­ber 2020, the EPA filed a motion to vol­un­tar­i­ly remand the pes­ti­cide reg­is­tra­tion for sul­fox­aflor back to the agency with­out vacat­ing the reg­is­tra­tion. The EPA rec­og­nized it had failed to com­ply with the ESA dur­ing the reg­is­tra­tion process and request­ed that the reg­is­tra­tion be sent back to the EPA so that it could cor­rect the ESA error. Fur­ther, the agency argued that the reg­is­tra­tion should not be vacat­ed because it claimed that remov­ing the pes­ti­cide from the mar­ket would like­ly increase the use of old­er, riski­er alternatives.

  • Decem­ber 2020

    In Decem­ber 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al led a coali­tion of eleven attor­neys gen­er­al in fil­ing an ami­cus brief in oppo­si­tion to the EPA’s Octo­ber 2020 motion to remand the reg­is­tra­tion with­out vacatur. The attor­neys gen­er­al not­ed that grant­i­ng EPA’s motion would return the pes­ti­cide to the back of the agency’s five-year back­log of pes­ti­cides await­ing ESA analy­ses, frus­trat­ing time­ly review of the reg­is­tra­tion under FIFRA. The ami­cus brief also point­ed out that remand­ing with­out vacatur would pro­vide the EPA with a roadmap for avoid­ing judi­cial review of pes­ti­cide reg­is­tra­tions in the future under FIFRA by admit­ting that the reg­is­tra­tion vio­lates the ESA and mov­ing for remand with­out vacatur where the reg­is­tra­tion would lan­guish in the ESA back­log. Con­tra EPA’s con­tention oth­er­wise, grant­i­ng the motion would have the effect of allow­ing poten­tial­ly risky pes­ti­cides to remain on the market.

Insec­ti­cide Risk Assessments

2017-2021

  • May 2020

    In May 2020, the EPA released a draft human health risk assess­ment for the insec­ti­cide fin­pronil. Fipronil is pri­mar­i­ly used to con­trol ter­mites, roach­es, and ants, and in pet treat­ments for fleas and ticks. Expo­sure to fipronil, most fre­quent­ly from in-home pet treat­ments, has been found to cause neu­ro­log­i­cal, der­mal, ocu­lar, and res­pi­ra­to­ry symp­toms. After appli­ca­tion, the tox­ic sub­stance lingers in the envi­ron­ment for years, pol­lut­ing water­ways and waste­water treat­ment facil­i­ties and leach­ing into water sources through every­day activ­i­ties such as bathing treat­ed pets, wash­ing hands after appli­ca­tion, and mop­ping indoor areas.

  • August 2020

    In August 2020, Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra sub­mit­ted com­ments crit­i­ciz­ing the draft risk assess­ment for sev­er­al gaps and incon­sis­ten­cies and urged the EPA to resolve them before pro­ceed­ing fur­ther with fipronil reg­is­tra­tion. In the com­ments, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Becer­ra point­ed out that the EPA rec­og­nizes fipronil pol­lutes California’s water­ways, yet failed to ana­lyze why the pol­lu­tion is occur­ring or how the pol­lu­tion in urban water­bod­ies affects the broad­er envi­ron­ment. He also not­ed that the assess­ment ignores sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that fipronil is con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing waste­water and sewage treat­ment plants and high­light­ed the assessment’s con­tra­dic­to­ry con­clu­sions regard­ing the human health impacts asso­ci­at­ed with fipronil.