Before Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt overruled his agency's recommendation that a toxic pesticide be banned, he privately met with the chemical company's executive. Pruitt did not disclose the meeting until journalists obtained his work calendar under the Freedom of Information Act.
In 2015, the administration of former President Barack Obama called on the EPA to forbid farmers using chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that had been originally used as a nerve agent weapon, to treat crops.
On March 29, Pruitt denied a petition by the Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council calling for a federal ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that had been originally used as a nerve agent weapon. The EPA chief also signed a directive that revoked the Obama administration rule, permitting farmers to continue using the pesticide.
"By reversing the previous administration's steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making -- rather than predetermined results," Pruitt stated, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Chlorpyrifos is produced by Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals. While EPA scientists found evidence that exposure to the chemical results in nerve damage among fetuses and infants, chlorpyrifos is sprayed on 5-10 million to 10 million pounds of crops each year, making it one of the most heavily used pesticides in the world.
Pesticide Action Network policy Director Kristin Schafer accused Pruitt of placing corporate interests above public health.
"The new administration's agency ignored their own findings that all exposures to chlorpyrifos on foods, in drinking water, and from pesticide drift into schools, homes and playgrounds are unsafe," Schafer said.
The Department of Agriculture's Office of Pest Management Policy Director Sheryl Kunickis defended the EPA decision.
"This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States," Kunickis said.
In April, EPA spokesman J.P. Freire asserted that Pruitt had not received any input from Dow Chemicals before making his decision, stating "We have had no meetings with Dow on this topic."
It was revealed June 27 that this was not true. On March 9, had Pruitt met with Dow Chemicals CEO Andrew Liveris for a half hour during a conference in Houston, 20 days before he decided to reject the petition to ban chlorpyrifos, the Associated Press reports.
The encounter was disclosed only after several FOIA requests prompted the EPA to release Pruitt's meeting schedule.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman asserted that the meeting between Pruitt and Liveris was brief.
"They did not discuss chlorpyrifos," Bowman said. "During the same trip [Pruitt] also met with the Canadian minister of natural resources, and CEOs and executives from other companies attending the trade show."
The day the meeting was disclosed, the American Academy of Pediatrics submitted a letter to Pruitt urging him to reconsider his decision.
"There is a wealth of science demonstrating the detrimental effects of chlorpyrifos exposure to developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women," the academy wrote. "The risk to infant and children’s health and development is unambiguous."