EPA faces decision on chemical linked to brain damage in children

When Claudia Angulo was pregnant with her son, she often felt nauseated and experienced vomiting and headaches. 

She didn’t think much of it, until after she learned her son had Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder and difficulties with language and learning. 

Angulo said she later discovered that a chemical she had been exposed to through her job — which involved taste-testing produce before it was washed — has been associated with health risks including brain damage in children. 

“At the time that I was pregnant, in the company there were like 10 women that were pregnant and of those 10 women, seven of their kids were born with [health] problems,” she told The Hill in an interview conducted in Spanish. 

And they’re not alone. 

Studies have linked prenatal exposure to the chemical, called chlorpyrifos, to neurodevelopmental issues including lower IQ and impaired working memory. 

Chlorpyrifos is used to prevent insects from affecting a variety of crops like berries, citrus fruits, vegetables and nuts. It’s currently banned for most residential uses but is still used in agriculture and there are several ways farmworkers can be exposed to it including through handling and applying it as well as experiencing drift from other nearby farms. 

In 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning its use on food and crops. However, in 2017, then-EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittAnother toxic EPA cookbook Juan Williams: Swamp creature at the White House Science protections must be enforceable MORE reversed course, saying that further study was warranted. 

“We are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results,” he said at the time.

The EPA now is weighing whether to propose a ban. 

Last week, in assessing risks presented by the chemical, the EPA said that “despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved.”

Advocates fear that this is a signal that the agency won’t ban the substance.

“It seems to signal that they’re going to not ban it because back in 2016 when they did a different risk assessment and found that there was risk, then they started the process to ban it,” said Iris Figueroa, an attorney with Farmworker Justice, a group currently suing in favor of a ban. 

“It logically follows, although it’s not for certain, the fact that they’re saying the stuff is unresolved means that they’re moving toward a different sort of decision than the one that they took just three years ago,” Figueroa added. 

An EPA spokesperson said in an email on Friday that its forthcoming proposal on what to do about chlorpyrifos “will outline potential risk management options to address any potential risks of concern” that were identified in the risk assessments.

The spokesperson said that the agency “has undertaken considerable efforts to assess the available chlorpyrifos data, providing a detailed discussion of the strengths and uncertainties associated with the epidemiology studies.”

The official particularly pointed to a major study from Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) saying that “although EPA