November 9, 2014
A memo from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlights the way that this agency gives more weight to poorly conducted, industry-funded studies than to the overwhelming body of evidence showing that pesticides are harmful.
The memo concerns an insecticide named chlorpyrifos (trade name Lorsban), manufactured by Dow Chemical. Until 2000, the chlorpyrifos was widely used in household bug sprays such as Raid. But due to strong evidence that the chemical was poisonous, especially to children, the EPA struck an agreement with Dow that the chemical could continue to be used for agriculture if it were banned from indoor use.
“These data do suggest that inhalation or dermal exposure can lead to life-threatening effects,” the EPA said at the time.
Still harming children’s brains
Dow has been on the defensive about chlorpyrifos for years. Even before restricting the chemical’s use, the EPA fined Dow $876,000 for 327 separate counts of violating the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Fungicide Act (FIRFA) with regard to chlorpyrifos. FIRFA requires pesticide manufacturers to report all complaints about pesticide poisoning within 30 days.
In 2004, the New York Attorney General’s office fined Dow $2 million for falsely claiming, for decades, that the chemical was safe, even after it was proven otherwise.
Studies have also shown that chlorpyrifos continues to be harmful even in agricultural uses. For example, a 2008 study found that pregnant women exposed to the pesticide gave birth to children with lower IQs, while a 2011 study found that chlorpyrifos-exposed children had reduced problem-solving ability.
“Toxic exposure during this critical period can have far-reaching effects on brain development and behavioral functioning,” said Virginia Rauh of Columbia University, who was not involved in those studies. “Some small effects occur at even very low exposures.”
The CHAMACOS (Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) study, conducted on farm workers between 1998 and 2011, found that children exposed to organophosphate pesticides (including chlorpyrifos) either before or after birth had lower cognitive abilities. Mothers with higher levels of the chemical in their urine had children with lower IQs and decreased verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory and mental processing speed.