Attorney General James Continues Fight Against Trump Administration Over Toxic Pesticides On Food  

Attorney General James Continues Fight Against
Trump Administration Over Toxic Pesticides on Food 

AG James-Led Coalition Argues EPA Is Breaking Federal Law
By Allowing Chlorpyrifos to Continue Contaminating Food 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of nine Attorneys General, today filed a brief arguing that the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is violating federal law by continuing to allow chlorpyrifos, a widely-used pesticide with well-documented harms to infants and young children’s neurological development, to contaminate common foods. The coalition is suing EPA over its decision to continue to allow chlorpyrifos to be present in foods, even though the Agency has not made a finding – as required by federal law – that this pesticide contamination is safe. 

In light of the Trump EPA’s failure to address the safety of chlorpyrifos in food – and overwhelming scientific evidence that currently allowable levels are not safe, the coalition is urging the court to direct the Agency ban it from food. 

“Chlorpyrifos is an extremely dangerous pesticide – particularly to infants and young children,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Yet the Trump Administration continues to ignore science, law, and common sense by allowing chlorpyrifos to contaminate our food at unsafe levels. To protect the health and safety of New Yorkers, I am urging the court to force the Trump EPA to do its job and ban this hazardous pesticide from our food.”  

Today’s filing is part of a lawsuit filed on August 7 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by the Attorneys General of New York, California, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont. The Attorneys General of Hawaii, Oregon, and the District of Columbia subsequently joined the coalition’s suit.   

Chlorpyrifos – a widely-used pesticide on food crops, including many fruits and vegetables commonly consumed by infants, young children, and pregnant women – is well-documented to harm proper development and functioning of the central nervous system and brain. In fact, EPA’s own scientists have twice been unable to identify a safe level of chlorpyrifos residues on food. Because of this, in November 2015 and again in November 2016, EPA issued proposed regulations to revoke all allowable levels – known as  “tolerances” – for chlorpyrifos in food. Revoking these tolerances would ban the dangerous pesticide from being present in food. 

However, in one of his first official acts, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt disregarded those proposals – and the weight of scientific evidence amassed by the Agency – and issued an order delaying until 2022 any decision on whether to revoke or modify currently allowable tolerances for chlorpyrifos in food.    

In June 2017, the New York Attorney General’s Office, leading a coalition of Attorneys General, along with a group of petitioners filed administrative objections to Administrator Pruitt’s order. The objections argued that by leaving the current chlorpyrifos food tolerances in place, the order violated the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (Food Act) because EPA failed to make the legally-required finding of safety required to maintain those tolerances.    

In April of this year, the Ninth Circuit ordered EPA to rule on the administrative objections within 90 days. EPA issued a decision denying the objections on July 18. However, in its denial, the Agency still did not make the legally-required finding that the current tolerances for chlorpyrifos in food were safe. Instead, EPA said it would continue on its original timeline, deferring any decision on the pesticide’s safety in food for another three years. 

In today’s filing, the coalition of Attorneys General argues that EPA’s July 18 decision was arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to federal law. In particular, the coalition contends that EPA violated the Food Act by leaving the current tolerances in place without affirmatively finding that they are safe and by failing to find, to a reasonable degree of medical certainly, that the tolerances will cause no harm to infants and children. The coalition urges the court to set aside the July 18 order, and direct EPA to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos residues on foods.    

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States on food crops, including those commonly consumed by infants and young children such as apples, strawberries, cherries, pears, peaches, nectarines, and cherries. Residues of the pesticide have repeatedly been documented in baby foods and juices. Chlorpyrifos has been subjected to regulatory review for nearly 20 years, and its dangers are well-documented. The pesticide is part of a group of chemicals that includes nerve gas and acts by inhibiting an enzyme that is key to the proper development and functioning of the central nervous system and brain. Several studies have shown that children born to women exposed to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy had a variety of disorders, including delayed motor development, attention problems, pervasive developmental disorder, attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and reduced IQ scores.  

This matter is being handled for Attorney General James by Deputy Solicitor General Andrea Oser and Assistant Solicitor General Frederick A. Brodie of the Division of Appeals and Opinions, under the supervision of Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood. This matter is also being handled by Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Karen Kaufmann and Environmental Scientist Jennifer Nalbone of the Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Lisa M. Burianek. The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel Srolovic, and is part of the Division of Social Justice, supervised by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.