The Lies of Donald Trump’s Surrogates: Chlorpyrifos

Scott Pruitt not pretending to be unbiased

Scott Pruitt not pretending to be unbiased

If WC is to make the stream of falsehoods pouring out of the Trump Administration manageable, he’s going to have to parse them somehow. At least for a whole, we’ll try breaking them down by source. And we’ll start with Trump’s lead man on destroying 47 years of environmental recovery, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.



Chlorpyrifos – O,O-diethyl O-3,5,6-trichloropyridin-2-yl phosphorothioate – is a pesticide, manufactured by Dow Chemical. It’s used on tens of thousands of farms across the country to protect dozens of different crops from a variety of insects. But there’s a problem with chlorpyrifos. Lots of problems.

Decades of research following its 1965 introduction have conclusively shown that the pesticide can harm the human respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Animal and human studies have linked exposure to declines in learning and memory. When chlorpyrifos was commonly used in household bug sprays, babies exposed prenatally via cord blood showed structural abnormalities in brain regions linked to attention, memory, language, and impulse control. As a result, in 2000, the EPA banned its use from most household products.

In 2010, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America filed a petition to have chlorpyrifos banned altogether.1 After more research and some debate from an expert scientific review panel of academic scientists, EPA scientists concluded that chlorpyrifos was causing significant health risks, particularly to farm workers and children, and should be banned.

WC emphasizes that all the scientific evidence concluded that chlorpyrifos was too dangerous to be used in the United States. Only the manufacturers thought these neurotoxins were safe. EPA scientists concluded that chlorpyrifos was causing significant health risks, particularly to farm workers and children, and should be banned. The EPA has already lost a series of Court of Appeals cases for dragging its feet on ruling, over-reliance on manufacturers’ unsupported claims of safety and excessive deference to industry.

So, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the product is simply too dangerous to use, what did EPA Administrator Pruitt do?

He lied, of course.2

He misrepresented the science, finding that it was inconclusive. He misrepresented the position of his own staff. He sucked up to Dow Chemical. He used the “everybody uses it” defense, which isn’t a defense at all. And based on those lies and misrepresentations, he caused the EPA to approve the continued non-consumer use of the stuff. And then he gloated about it. In a press release, he said,

We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment. 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.

WC is certain that the NRDC will appeal Pruitt’s decision, and that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will reject Pruitt’s fiat. Agency expertise makes appellate courts defer to an agency decision, but not where they are completely contrary to the decision. But in the meantime, farm workers will continue to be exposed to a chemical which is unacceptably deadly.

But here’s what worries WC: if Pruitt will play this fast and loose with the facts on a decision where the science is perfectly clear, can you imagine what he will do with a closer case?



  1. Yes, technically, the Environmental Defense Fund objected to the re-registration of chlorpyrifos. This article is geeky enough without getting into that. 
  2. Not for the first time. Pruitt is under investigation for misleading the Senate during his confirmation hearing. The Oklahoma Bar Association is investigating a complaint that Pruitt lied when he swore under oath that he never used personal email to conduct official business while he served as Oklahoma’s attorney general.