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Pesticide ban nixed by new EPA

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06/27/2017 - A pesticide used on thousands of acres of specialty crops in Michigan that was expected to be banned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to potential developmental issues in children will remain in use under a decision by the federal department's new administrator, Scott Pruitt, but continued debate over the chemical's use has both sides claiming their positions are backed by science.

Sold under more than 50 different product names, chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used insecticides in the world, targeting insects, arachnids and other pests that destroy hundreds of different crops, including apples, cherries and other fruit, corn, onions, nuts and specialty crops. The pesticide is also used to control mosquitos at some golf courses, as well as ants, cockroaches and other pests. Chlorpyrifos was also used for residential pesticide control prior to heavy restrictions imposed by the EPA in 2001 due to concerns about health risks.

Additional research since the EPA's 2001 ban on residential use of chlorpyrifos has indicated the pesticide is linked to developmental delays in children, including autism, attention deficit disorders and decreased or delayed cognitive ability. While federal law requires the EPA to consider a pesticide's risk to children when reauthorizing the use of each pesticide registered with the agency on a 15-year basis, health and environmental advocates say the EPA ignored such evidence when its new administrator reversed the agency's previous decision in 2015 to ban the use of chlorpyrifos for agricultural use.

Praised by those in the farming and pesticide industry who are in favor of more relaxed regulations, the move has been dubbed a return to "sound science" by the new EPA under the Trump administration, and serves as an example of how science has become a politicized issue in the country's regulation system that pits those helping to feed the population against those in the public health realm who are trying to protect it.

In Michigan, pesticide applicators purchased about 3,387 pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2013, 2014 and 2015 across the state, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

"Its a widely used organophosphate that is in many farmers' toolboxes," said Kevin Robson, horticultural specialist with the Michigan Farm Bureau, who focuses on specialty crops in the state, such as apples, cherries, onions, cranberries and others.

Specialty crops, which also include foods such as turnips, carrots, cabbage, asparagus, and brassica crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower, account for about 159,000 acres of farmland in Michigan. Robson said chlorpyrifos is used as a one-time treatment application for many of those crops. Without the use of the pesticide, he said, growers estimate they could lose 50 to 95 percent of their crops to pests.

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