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A federal appeals court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban a pesticide once used as a nerve gas that can cause brain disorders.
According to studies presented to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, low doses of chlorpyrifos can cause children to suffer attention deficit disorders, delayed motor development, and lower IQs. A divided panel of the court blasted the government for dragging its feet in protecting consumers.
"The time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion," Judge Jed Rakoff wrote for the majority in League of United American Citizens v. Wheeler.
The judges noted the Nazis used chlorpyrifos as a nerve gas in World War II. In 1965, the United States approved the pesticide for agricultural, residential, and commercial purposes. It kills insects by suppressing an enzyme that works in the brain.
The EPA set tolerances for food crops, including fruits, nuts, and vegetables. In 2007, however, health organizations showed the EPA the adverse effects on children and infants who had been exposed to the pesticide prenatally.
More recent studies indicated it could cause neurological disorders and immune diseases. According to reports, the effects on children was so strong the government banned household use.
But the EPA delayed a decision on whether to ban it for food. The agency did not defend its inaction before the Ninth Circuit, arguing instead that the court lacked jurisdiction.
"There remains no justification for the EPA's continued failure to respond to the pressing health concerns presented by chlorpyrifos," the Ninth Circuit said and gave the agency 60 days to ban the pesticide.
In dissent, Judge Ferdinand Fernandez said the court had no authority to order a ban. He said the plaintiffs made "premature attacks" on the EPA's decision.
Erik Nicholson, national vice-president of the United Farm Workers, praised the Ninth Circuit. He told the Los Angeles Times that the change was a long time coming.
"The EPA has put the women and men who harvest the food we eat every day in harm's way too long by allowing the continued use of this dangerous neurotoxin," he said.