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EPA chief met with Dow Chemical CEO before deciding not to ban toxic pesticide

EPA chief met with Dow Chemical CEO before deciding not to ban toxic pesticide
A crop duster sprays a field just outside Headland, Ala., in 2009. (Dave Martin / Associated Press)

The Trump administration's top environmental official met privately with the chief executive of Dow Chemical shortly before reversing his agency's push to ban a widely used pesticide that health studies showed can harm children's brains, newly released records reveal.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's schedule shows he met with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris for about half an hour March 9 during a conference held at a Houston hotel. Twenty days later, Pruitt announced his decision to deny a petition to ban Dow's chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food even though a review by his agency's scientists concluded that ingesting even minuscule amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants.

The EPA released a copy of Pruitt's March meeting schedule this month after several Freedom of Information Act requests.

Asked in April whether Pruitt had meet with Dow executives or lobbyists before his decision, EPA spokesman J.P. Freire replied: "We have had no meetings with Dow on this topic."

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The EPA did not respond this week to questions about what Pruitt and Liveris discussed during their March 9 meeting, or whether the two had also met on other occasions.

Liveris has close ties to the Trump administration. He heads a White House manufacturing working group, and Dow wrote a $1-million check to help underwrite the president's inaugural festivities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged Pruitt to take chlorpyrifos off the market. The group representing more than 66,000 pediatricians and pediatric surgeons said Tuesday that it is “deeply alarmed” by Pruitt's decision to allow the pesticide's continued use.

"There is a wealth of science demonstrating the detrimental effects of chlorpyrifos exposure to developing fetuses, infants, children and pregnant women," the academy said in a letter to Pruitt. "The risk to infant and children's health and development is unambiguous."

The Associated Press reported in April that Dow was lobbying the Trump administration to "set aside" the findings of federal scientists that organophosphate pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, are also harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

U.S. farmers spray more than 6 million pounds of chlorpyrifos each year on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops, making it one of the most widely used pesticides in the world.

First developed as a chemical weapon before World War II, chlorpyrifos has been sold by Dow as a pesticide since the mid-1960s. It has been blamed for sickening dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and experts say overuse of the pesticide could make targeted insects immune to it.

Under pressure from federal regulators over safety concerns, Dow withdrew chlorpyrifos for use as a home insecticide in 2000. The EPA placed "no-spray" buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.

But environmental and public health groups said those proposals don't go far enough and filed a federal lawsuit seeking a national ban on the pesticide.

In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed revoking the pesticide's use in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America. A risk assessment memo issued in November by nine EPA scientists concluded: "There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."

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