Attorney General James Sues Trump Administration Over Toxic Pesticides In Food  

AG James Leads Coalition Suing EPA Over Chlorpyrifos Not Determined Safe for Consumption  

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James, leading a coalition of six State Attorneys General, today filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administrations Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA) for continuing to allow chlorpyrifos , a widely used pesticide with well-documented harms to infants’ and children’s neurological development, to contaminate common foods. The coalition is challenging the EPA’s decision to continue to allow chlorpyrifos to be used in food, even though it has not made a current finding, as required by law, that this pesticide contamination is safe.  

“Chlorpyrifos is extremely dangerous, especially to the health of our children,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Yet, the Trump Administration continues to ignore both the science and law, by allowing this toxic pesticide to contaminate food at unsafe levels. If the Trump EPA won’t do its job and protect the health and safety of New Yorkers, my office will take them to court and force them to fulfill their responsibilities.”  

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to New York, the lawsuit was filed by the Attorneys General of California, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont. The Attorneys General of Hawaii and the District of Columbiaintend to join the coalition by filing tomorrow to intervene in the suit.  

Chlorpyrifos--a widely used pesticide on food crops, including fruits and vegetables 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, the EPA’s own scientists have twice been unable to identify a safe level for the pesticide on food. Because of this, in November 2015 and again in November 2016, the EPA issued proposed regulations to revoke all allowable levels, or “tolerances,” and no longer allow chlorpyrifos to be used on food crops. However, in one of his first official acts, then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt disregarded those proposals – and decades of scientific evidence amassed by the Agency – and issued an order putting off until October 2022, if not longer, any decision on whether to revoke or modify currently allowable levels for chlorpyrifos residues in food.   

In June 2017, the New York Attorney General’s Office, leading a coalition of Attorneys General, along with a group of petitioners including the League of United Latin American Citizens and other citizen, health, and environmental organizations, filed administrative objections to Administrator Pruitt’s order.  The objections argued that in leaving in place the tolerances for Chlorpyrifos, 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 these tolerances.  

In April of this year, the Ninth Circuit ordered the EPA to make a decision on the administrative objections within 90 days. The EPA issued a decision denying these objections on July 18, stating that, rather than take action on its proposed rule to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances, it would instead continue to monitor the safety of the dangerous pesticide in food until as late as 2022.   

The suit filed today by the coalition of Attorneys General argues that EPA’s July 18 decision was “arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law in numerous respects,” including that the Agency is leaving the tolerances in place without – as required by the Food Act – ensuring that no harm will result to infants and children, or determining that the current tolerances for Chlorpyrifos are safe. The coalition requests that the court set aside July 18 order, and direct EPA to revoke all tolerances for Chlorpyrifos residues on foods unless the Agency makes a finding that the tolerances are “safe.”   

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used insecticides in the United States on numerous food crops, including those 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 related to 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 cognitive and motor development delays in the first three years, and structural changes in the brain, lower working memory and IQ scores at age seven, and movement disorders (including arm tremors) by age eleven. 

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 Attorney General Lisa M. Burianek.  The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel Srolovic, and is part of the Division of Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux.