Originally published November 9 2014
EPA gives more credibility to industry-funded studies than peer-reviewed science when approving pesticide use
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) A memo from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlights the way that this agency gives more weight to poorly conducted, industry-funded studies than to the overwhelming body of evidence showing that pesticides are harmful.
The memo concerns an insecticide named chlorpyrifos (trade name Lorsban), manufactured by Dow Chemical. Until 2000, the chlorpyrifos was widely used in household bug sprays such as Raid. But due to strong evidence that the chemical was poisonous, especially to children, the EPA struck an agreement with Dow that the chemical could continue to be used for agriculture if it were banned from indoor use.
"These data do suggest that inhalation or dermal exposure can lead to life-threatening effects," the EPA said at the time.
Still harming children's brainsDow has been on the defensive about chlorpyrifos for years. Even before restricting the chemical's use, the EPA fined Dow $876,000 for 327 separate counts of violating the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Fungicide Act (FIRFA) with regard to chlorpyrifos. FIRFA requires pesticide manufacturers to report all complaints about pesticide poisoning within 30 days.
In 2004, the New York Attorney General's office fined Dow $2 million for falsely claiming, for decades, that the chemical was safe, even after it was proven otherwise.
Studies have also shown that chlorpyrifos continues to be harmful even in agricultural uses. For example, a 2008 study found that pregnant women exposed to the pesticide gave birth to children with lower IQs, while a 2011 study found that chlorpyrifos-exposed children had reduced problem-solving ability.
"Toxic exposure during this critical period can have far-reaching effects on brain development and behavioral functioning," said Virginia Rauh of Columbia University, who was not involved in those studies. "Some small effects occur at even very low exposures."
The CHAMACOS (Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) study, conducted on farm workers between 1998 and 2011, found that children exposed to organophosphate pesticides (including chlorpyrifos) either before or after birth had lower cognitive abilities. Mothers with higher levels of the chemical in their urine had children with lower IQs and decreased verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory and mental processing speed.
Undue weight to industry studiesIn lawsuits filed in 2007 and 2014, the groups Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network have called on the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos entirely.
Given Dow's shady history, the EPA's own previous decision and the emerging evidence that chlorpyrifos continues to be dangerous, one might expect the agency to be receptive to these petitions. But according to a memo from the EPA to its Health Effects Division, dated June 25, 2014, the EPA may be willing to overlook all of that based solely on two 2013 studies conducted by Dow scientists, never published or submitted for peer review.
These studies supposedly showed that even at "the highest possible concentration in the air," chlorpyrifos cannot harm bystanders -- such as the schoolchildren regularly exposed to the chemical on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i, where massive quantities of chlorpyrifos are sprayed year-round to protect experimental fields of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
"If there is no hazard to the vapor for these pesticides, there is no risk," the memo says.
"The results of these studies have significantly changed how [the] EPA considers the hazard to chlorpyrifos."
This about-face comes in spite of the fact that the Dow studies contained several major flaws that would have been exposed by peer review, such as a tiny sample size (five groups of eight rats each) and exposing rats to chlorpyrifos by a nasal route only, even though children are regularly exposed to the chemical through the mouth and skin as well.
But it seems that the EPA has decided that science and public safety take a back seat to pleasing powerful corporations such as Dow.
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