Chesapeake PSR

It falls on us to protect science

Toxics and HealthTimothy WhitehouseComment

Science is at risk in the U.S., and it affects all of us.

A few days ago EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt declined to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos – a Dow Chemical product – despite agency employee recommendations and scientific findings linking chlorpyrifos to memory declines in farm workers and children who may be exposed to the pesticide through drinking water.

And according to numerous press reports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has dropped a plan to start testing food for residues of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Products containing glyphosate include Roundup, Rodeo and Pondmaster.

This comes on the heels of outcry from the chemical industry over a 2015 decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" based on a review of approximately 1,000 published studies. Since then, the IARC has come under relentless criticism from the industry and their supporters in Congress, who are calling on the U.S. to eliminate funding to the IARC, an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Attacking and suppressing science is becoming the norm in the U.S. Just this month, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official charged with evaluating the cancer risk of Roundup allegedly told a company executive in April 2015 that he deserved a medal if he could kill an investigation into the herbicide’s key chemical. That official is now the central figure in more than 20 lawsuits accusing the company of failing to warn consumers and regulators of the risk that glyphosates can cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

How does this relate to Maryland?

In 2015, the Montgomery County Council passed a law to restrict the use of certain non-essential pesticides on private lawns, playgrounds and some county lands. The law reflected growing concern by county residents about research linking cancer and other health issues with exposure to certain chemicals used in commercial herbicides, including glyphosate.

Specifically, the bill designated non-essential pesticides to include those classified as "carcinogenic to humans" or "likely to be carcinogenic to humans" by EPA; all pesticides classified by EPA as "restricted use products;" all pesticides classified as "class 9" pesticides by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment; all pesticides classified as "category 1 endocrine disruptors" by the European Commission; and any other pesticides that the county executive determines are not critical to pest management in Montgomery County.

The following year, the industry filed a lawsuit against Montgomery County alleging that the law was pre-empted by state law because it had been approved for use by EPA. 

What’s the lesson for Montgomery County or other Maryland municipalities?

The federal government may not be an impartial player and advocate for decisions based on sound science. That role falls on all of us.

• • •