By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On October 13, 2017, Petitioners League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), et al. filed a motion to expedite briefing and hearing in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-71636 (9th Cir. June 5, 2017). In their motion, Petitioners request that the court “expedite proceedings because of the harm being caused by [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)] Administrator Pruitt leaving chlorpyrifos tolerances in effect when he did not and cannot determine that chlorpyrifos is safe under the Food Quality Protection Act.”
Petitioners state there is good cause for expedition “because children continue to be exposed to chlorpyrifos in their food, drinking water, and the air around their homes, schools, and playfields, putting them at risk of such brain impairments as lower IQ, attention deficit disorders, and developmental delays,” and “Ninth Circuit Rule 27-12 provides that ‘motions to expedite briefing and hearing may be filed and will be granted upon a showing of good cause,’” including ‘“situations in which … in the absence of expedited treatment, irreparable harm may occur.’” Pursuant to Ninth Circuit Rule 27-12, Petitioners determined the position of EPA counsel on the motion, who stated that, “EPA opposes the motion to expedite as premature under Circuit Rule 27-11(b).”
The Petitioners’ motion to expedite briefing was submitted despite the pendency of an unresolved motion to dismiss submitted by Respondents Administrator Pruitt and EPA on August 21, 2017. In that motion, EPA argued that the court lacks jurisdiction to review the March 29, 2017, order denying the petition by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to revoke all Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) tolerances for chlorpyrifos, until after the Petitioners have exhausted their administrative remedies by filing objections to the denial, and EPA has issued a final order ruling on such objections. In its motion to dismiss, EPA noted that the Ninth Circuit denied a motion by PANNA and NRDC for further mandamus relief in In re PANNA on July 18, 2017, stating that “one valid agency response to a petition challenging a pesticide’s tolerances is to ‘issue an order denying the petition,’” and ‘“now that EPA has issued its denial, substantive objections must first be made through the administrative process mandated by’ the FFDCA.”
On September 27, 2017, Petitioners filed their opposition to the motion to dismiss. Petitioners argued that exhaustion of administrative remedies by filing objections under the FFDCA is not an absolute jurisdictional prerequisite to judicial review, and that the court can proceed with review under the “futility doctrine” because EPA’s refusal to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos constitutes a “flagrant violation of a statutory prohibition.” Petitioners also argued that even if FFDCA exhaustion is required, EPA has also denied the petition by PANNA and NRDC to cancel the registrations of chlorpyrifos, and that additional denial constitutes a final order that is subject to immediate review under FIFRA Section 16(b) because the notice and comment process concerning the petition was a “public hearing” under the applicable precedent.
The new motion by Petitioners LULAC, et al. to expedite briefing on the challenge to EPA’s denial of the PANNA and NRDC petition reflects the view of the Petitioners that this matter is urgent because continued use of chlorpyrifos jeopardizes the health of children, but this motion is unlikely to be resolved before the court rules on EPA’s pending motion to dismiss. EPA has stated that it will oppose the Petitioners’ motion to expedite briefing as premature. Moreover, EPA has not yet replied to the arguments made by the Petitioners in their opposition to the pending dismissal motion.
To prevail on their argument that exhausting the administrative process prescribed by the FFDCA will be “futile,” the Petitioners likely will have to persuade the Court that these FFDCA procedures are not jurisdictional prerequisites to judicial review, and that there is little likelihood that EPA will change its mind in response to their objections. With respect to the argument that EPA’s denial of the petition to cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos is final agency action subject to immediate review under FIFRA Section 16(b), EPA will likely contend that this argument is contravened by 21 U.S.C. § 346a(h)(5), which states: “any issue as to which review is or was obtainable under this subsection shall not be the subject of judicial review under any other provision of law.” It could be difficult for Petitioners to defeat this jurisdictional prohibition in the FFDCA; they would presumably need to show the court that their substantive contentions concerning the hazards posed by chlorpyrifos would not be directly implicated in EPA’s final determination of whether or not to revoke the tolerances for chlorpyrifos.
This case will be carefully watched by pesticide industry observers.
More information on regulatory issues related to chlorpyrifos is available on our blog.
By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Margaret R. Graham
On July 18, 2017, four Senators (Tom Udall (D-NM); Benjamin Cardin (D-MD); Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); and Cory Booker (D-NJ)) submitted a letter to Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, regarding reauthorizing the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act (PRIA), worker protections, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “legal duty to protect the public from unreasonable harm from pesticides.” H.R. 1029, the Pesticide Registration Improvement Extension Act of 2017, which reauthorizes PRIA, was passed by the Agriculture Committee on February 16, 2017. The letter states that it should include a “limited number of improvements” before being approved by the full Senate, including “adequately reflect[ing] important worker safety priorities” via “ensuring that the worker protection rules are implemented in a timely manner” and “finalizing the EPA staff recommended ban on chlorpyrifos.” The letter states the EPA’s decision to deny the petition to ban chlropyrifos should be “reversed immediately.”
More information on H.R. 1029 is available in our blog item House Agriculture Committee Passes Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act of 2017.
On July 25, 2017, Udall, Blumenthal, Booker, Cardin, and several other Senators introduced S. 1624, the Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2017, which prohibits the use of chlorpyrifos on food and directs EPA to enter into a contract with the National Research Council to “conduct a cumulative and aggregate risk assessment that addresses all populations, and the most vulnerable subpopulations, including infants, children, and fetuses, of exposure to organophosphate pesticides.” S. 1624 proposes to amend Section 402 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to add to the list of adulterated food any food that “bears or contains chlorpyrifos, including any residue of chlorpyrifos, or any other added substance that is present on or in the food primarily as a result of the metabolism or other degradation of chlorpyrifos.”
The Senate letter regarding issues with H.R. 1029 can possibly forestall the reauthorization of PRIA, which would cause many problems for EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), as the PRIA funds are necessary for OPP to operate the pesticide regulatory program.
Politically, the hiccup on PRIA reauthorization indicates a further acceleration of the partisan sniping already sapping the ability of the Senate to reach agreement on any subject. PRIA contributes to EPA’s budget, with specific funds directed to support farmworker protection. As such, it has not proven to be controversial in past reauthorization efforts. PRIA represents an industry contribution to support EPA’s regulatory reviews and farmworker protection programs, and without it, EPA’s budget will face further cuts. Normally, democratic members of Congress would be expected to be against further cuts to EPA and applaud the more robust regulatory regime supported by the regulated community’s own fees.
The chlorpyrifos legislation also portends a new, more hostile operating environment for the current leadership of EPA. It has been years since action on specific pesticide products has seen a serious legislative proposal; generally Congress is reluctant to engage on a specific regulatory conclusion which has complex scientific disputes at its core.
Opposition to current EPA leadership and Administration agendas appears to be so intense that partisan bickering will surround almost any EPA-related initiative brought to the Senate floor.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Lisa R. Burchi, and James V. Aidala
On July 18, 2017, a panel of three judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an order denying petitioners’ Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (Petitioners) Motion for Further Mandamus in the chlorpyrifos proceedings. In that motion, Petitioners asked the court to grant further mandamus relief, asserting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) denial of Petitioners’ petition to revoke all food tolerances and cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations was inadequate because it contained “no new safety findings” and no “final determination as to whether chlorpyifos food tolerances must be revoked.” More information on the motion is available in our blog item Petitioners File Motion for Further Mandamus Relief in Response to EPA’s Order Denying Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos.
In its order, the panel held that since the prior mandamus proceedings “addressed the timing, not the substance, of EPA’s response,” EPA had “complied with the panel’s previous orders by issuing a ‘final response to the petition.’” The mandamus motion thus was “premature, and its substantive objections to the EPA’s denial must first be made through the administrative process mandated by statute.”
The demand imposed by the court earlier was to make a decision, and EPA met that deadline with its denial. This is a significant win for industry, but is far from the end of this debate, which will continue in a number of different forums. More information on the proceedings is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala
A noteworthy development in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing and controversial consideration of the potential use of epidemiological data in its pesticide risk assessments occurred on May 25, 2017, when EPA placed in the public dockets for certain organophosphate (OP) pesticides an “update” of the September 15, 2015, Literature Review and Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) determination, along with a response to comments on the original document. These documents were signed by EPA scientists on December 29, 2016, prior to the new Administration, but were placed in the docket only last month, under the new Administration. The documents attempt to rebut the various criticisms of EPA’s assessment of the epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos and the original FQPA safety factor determination for OP pesticides, and they reaffirm the policy embodied in the original Literature Review. Because these new documents were signed in the last days of the Obama Administration, they may be viewed by some industry stakeholders as an effort by some at EPA to “lock in” the prior policy concerning OP pesticides.
The public release of the “updated” Literature Review and response to comments must be considered in the context of the ongoing chlorpyrifos battles that have received significant public attention. During the five months between the date that these “update” documents were signed and the date that EPA placed them in the public docket, EPA Administrator Pruitt issued a decision on March 29, 2017, to deny the petition filed by the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos products. See EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos. In his denial decision, Administrator Pruitt concluded it would be appropriate for EPA to defer determining whether chlorpyrifos is likely to cause neurodevelopmental effects at exposure levels below the levels that cause acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition until the completion of the registration review process for chlorpyrifos. Administrator Pruitt based his decision on the premise that “the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved” and that “significant uncertainty … exists regarding the potential for chlorpyrifos to cause adverse neurodevelopmental effects.”
Some industry stakeholders may argue that the decision by the EPA scientists who prepared the “updated” Literature Review which concluded that EPA should retain the 10X FQPA uncertainty factor for OP pesticides can be reconciled with Administrator Pruitt’s subsequent denial decision, because the “updated” FQPA safety factor determination does not preclude further scientific discussion concerning the potential for neurodevelopmental effects from OP pesticide exposures. On the other hand, other industry stakeholders may be concerned about the immediate adverse impact of this “updated” FQPA determination on the risk assessments prepared by EPA for OP pesticides and the measures that will be demanded by EPA to mitigate purported risks.
On April 5, 2017, PANNA and NRDC responded to Administrator Pruitt’s March 29, 2017, decision to deny their petition to revoke the tolerances and cancel the registrations for chlorpyrifos by submitting to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a Motion for Further Mandamus Relief. That motion was substantially based on the premise that EPA does not “suggest that it has reconsidered its finding that chlorpyrifos is unsafe.” The briefing on the new mandamus motion was completed on May 5, 2017, several weeks before EPA disclosed the documents concerning the “updated” FQPA determination. Nevertheless, petitioners could try to argue that these documents constitute further evidence supporting their key premise that EPA has not actually revisited its prior determination that chlorpyrifos exposures are unsafe.
The legal and policy issues posed by EPA’s evaluation of the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos and by EPA’s determination that these data create sufficient uncertainty to warrant retention of the FQPA 10X safety factor for all OP pesticides will be a continued source of controversy, and will be watched with interest by all stakeholders.
More information and updates on chlorpyrifos, the epidemiological data, and their surrounding legal issues is available on our blog item under keyword chlorpyrifos.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and James V. Aidala
On June 22, 2017, a complaint was filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by American Oversight, a nonprofit organization (Plaintiff), in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint asks the court to compel EPA to provide information in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by the Plaintiff on April 11, 2017, “seeking communications between certain individuals at each agency and certain outside entities related to chlorpyrifos or other pesticides.” The records requested included: (1) a copy of any decision memoranda and attachments associated with the decision to deny the petition to ban chlorpyrifos; and (2) all communications between certain individuals involved with EPA’s Administration as well as certain transition team members, and the following listed entities:
- Any agricultural or other trade group with an interest in pesticides, including but not limited to CropLife, the American Farm Bureau, the National Corn Growers, or the Oklahoma Farm Bureau;
- Any pesticide manufacturer or anyone acting on behalf of a pesticide manufacturer, including but not limited to Dow Chemical or Dow AgroSciences;
- Any member of Congress or anyone acting on behalf of a member of Congress (including both personal and committee staff) regarding agricultural issues or pesticides; and
- Any think tanks, including but not limited to the Heritage Foundation, regarding agricultural issues or pesticides.
The complaint asserts that although EPA responded to the FOIA request by stating that it was “proceeding with the search,” EPA “has not taken any additional actions,” and as of June 14, 2017, had not provided any of the requested records. Plaintiff claims that EPA has failed to comply with the applicable time-limit provisions of FOIA and the complaint contains two Counts: Count I: Failure to Conduct Adequate Search for Responsive Records; and Count II: Wrongful Witholding of Non-Exempt Records. Based on these alleged violations, Plaintiff asks the court to order EPA to conduct a search reasonably calculated to uncover all records responsive to the FOIA request; order EPA to produce any and all non-exempt records responsive to the FOIA request and indexes justifying the withholding of any responsive records withheld under claim of exemption; and enjoin EPA from continuing to withhold any and all non-exempt records responsive to the FOIA request.
This Plaintiff appears to be seeking the responsive records to demonstrate that some kind of untoward or inappropriate communication occurred between the incoming Administration and outside groups leading to the chlorpyrifos petition response that allowed continued use of chlorpyrifos products, pending the completion of the registration review process. Given the record that the Obama Administration constructed to propose the revocation of the chlorpyrifos tolerances, environmental advocates were disappointed that the new EPA leadership decided to postpone a decision. EPA in its petition response articulated its rationale for its decision, but the Plaintiff may believe that these documents would likely show the “politics” behind the decision. This is somewhat ironic since many stakeholders in the agricultural user community are convinced that the initial proposal to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances issued during the prior Administration was itself an example of “politics over science.”
In this instance, it does not appear that EPA has made any determination yet whether any of the requested records are exempt from disclosure. Moreover, the Plaintiff appears to be seeking decision memoranda and communications between EPA employees and other parties outside of EPA; this fact could affect EPA’s consideration of the applicability of the “deliberative process” privilege set forth in FOIA Exemption 5 to try to withhold any of the requested records, an issue that could be controversial.
The Plaintiffs contend that EPA has not met the mandatory time limits applicable to a FOIA request. This is a common problem, particularly when multiple individuals must participate in the search for responsive records, the records requested are voluminous, or exempt material like confidential commercial information must be redacted from otherwise responsive records. Unless EPA ultimately determines that some records can and should be withheld, and Plaintiff disagrees, this suit may become moot in the event that EPA produces the requested documents before the case can be adjudicated. Regardless of the outcome, Plaintiff has succeeded in keeping EPA’s controversial chlorpyrifos decision in the spotlight.
By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Margaret R. Graham
On April 27, 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sent a letter to Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr. at the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting the OIG to conduct an investigation into EPA’s March 29, 2017, order denying the September 2007 petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. The letter refers to the March 29, 2017, order as “Administrator Scott Pruitt’s order,” and asks OIG to address questions specifically targeting the rationale, communications, and consideration that Administrator Pruitt took prior to reaching the decision.
The letter states that Administrator Pruitt's “hasty reversal of this decision … appears not to be based on EPA’s existing recent scientific findings about the risk, or any new information that contradicts the findings about the health and safety risks of chlorpyrifos.” Further, the letter asserts that “it does not appear to be consistent with the law, which requires that pesticide products cannot be used unless ‘there is reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical residue.’”
- How did Mr. Pruitt reach the decision he announced on March 29, 2017? What was the timeline leading up to this decision? With whom did he communicate within EPA, the White House, or elsewhere in the Administration? With which outside entities did he communicate? Specifically, did Mr. Pruitt have any communication with staff or representatives of Dow Chemical or any pesticide industry trade groups including CropLife America?
- What was the rationale for Mr. Pruitt's decision, and why did he reverse an agency decision that had been years in the making? How was this rationale developed? Was it based on any new information or evidence?
- Was Mr. Pruitt's decision consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act? Did he provide appropriate notice and comment and appropriately consider all relevant comments and information?
- Was Mr. Pruitt's decision consistent with the requirements of the FFDCA, which establishes a standard that, to maintain a pesticide tolerance, there must be "reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the aggregate exposure to the pesticide chemical petitition to revoke tolerances.pdf residue"? Has the EPA met the "reasonable certainty [of] no harm" standard in the law? Why did Mr. Pruitt note that chlorpyrifos was "widely used" when he announced his decision? Was this "wid[e] use" a factor in Mr. Pruitt's decision, and, if so, was this appropriate under the law? What other factors were taken into consideration by Mr. Pruitt?
- Is the EPA accurately and transparently presenting information to the public with regard to previous EPA actions concerning chlorpyrifos? For example, the EPA website for chlorpyrifos on January 2, 2017 contained information indicating that EPA "proposed to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances," and contained a link with detailed information about the health risks and the reasons for the EPA action. This reference to the proposed ban, and the link to the detailed EPA analysis are no longer available on the chlorpyrifos web page, and the link to the analysis (as of April 3, 201 7) now gives a "Page Not Found" error.
This letter not surprisingly continues the debate over the appropriate regulatory status of chlorpyrifos. Those disappointed by the recent EPA decision, apparently including Senator Warren and Representative Pallone, want to press EPA to explain in more detail not only the reasons for the decision not to revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances at this time, but also the rationale EPA used to rebut what they believe to be the decision-making record that EPA had accumulated over the last two to three years.
The explanation that the arrival of new leadership at EPA with the Administration led to a change in position is perhaps only part of the answer. The change in Administration did not change the underlying statutory requirements governing EPA’s registration, reregistration, and tolerance decisions, and EPA relied on these requirements as the basis for its decision not to make a decision at this time, as discussed in EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos.
EPA’s response to any investigation initiated by this letter, as well as the OIG response, will be watched closely by all stakeholders.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On April 5, 2017, Petitioners Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (Petitioners) filed a Motion for Further Mandamus Relief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals proceedings regarding the chlorpyrifos tolerances. In the motion, Petitioners respond to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) order signed on March 29, 2017, which denied the petition to revoke tolerances. Petitioners state that EPA’s response to the petition (the order) is “no response at all and not what this Court ordered EPA to do,” and asks the court to “grant further mandamus relief, giving EPA 30 days to act on its findings that chlorpyrifos exposures are unsafe and to establish deadlines for the next steps in the revocation and cancellation processes for chlorpyrifos.” Specifically, Petitioners request that the court order EPA to:
- Take regulatory action within 30 days on its finding that chlorpyrifos is unsafe and “make it abundantly clear that what is required within 30 days is final regulatory action based on the neuro-developmental and other risks posed by chlorpyrifos exposures”;
- Resolve objections to its final regulatory action within 60 days, as opposed to “as soon as practicable after receiving the arguments of the parties,” because, Petitioners assert, EPA otherwise may put off their response for a long period of time;
- Require EPA to issue a notice of intent to cancel all chlorpyrifos uses within 60 days, “consistent with its risk assessments and findings that chlorpyrifos is unsafe,” as it has “found drinking water contamination from all chlorpyrifos uses, including nonfood uses, and will need to take regulatory action to end such uses in addition to stopping food uses”; and
- File six-month status reports until the tolerance revocation process and the cancellation proceedings are complete.
It is no surprise that the Petitioners who were disappointed by EPA’s denial of the petition one week ago have now continued their advocacy against the use of chlorpyrifos. As we note in our previous blog item EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos, EPA articulated its reason for the denial as of this time, but this in itself did not articulate its determination that the registration and associated tolerances met the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). EPA’s response to this latest legal skirmish will be of interest, as will the court’s response to it. .
More information on the proceedings is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On March 29, 2017, U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Pruitt signed an order denying the September 2007 petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. This is the latest EPA action in a long and contentious battle concerning chlorpyrifos tolerances and registrations, and is likely not the end of this story.
EPA’s decision denying the petition addresses each of the petition’s ten claims and the history of EPA’s review and responses to those claims. Much attention will be paid to the order’s discussion of three of the claims, which the order states all relate to the same issue: “whether the potential exists for chlorpyrifos to cause neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels below EPA’s existing regulatory standard (10% cholinesterase inhibition).” The order states that because “Congress has provided that EPA must complete registration review by October 1, 2022,” and because EPA has “concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution” on the issues concerning potential neurodevelopmental effects in children, EPA is denying the claims, given the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ August 12, 2016, order that “made clear” that further extensions to the March 31, 2017, deadline for responding to the petition would not be granted. EPA states that the “science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved,” and “further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos.”
The order will become effective as soon as it is published in the Federal Register. More information on the prior proceedings concerning this matter is available on our blog under key phrase chlorpyrifos.
This decision by EPA under the Trump Administration to deny the petition is not surprising, given the rhetoric of reducing regulatory burdens and the need to stop regulatory “overreach” by agencies like EPA which has been accused of making politically driven decisions. EPA's press release captures this, quoting Administrator Pruitt stating (in part): "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.”
EPA has, however, “kicked the can down the road” to some extent on the key science issue -- whether EPA appropriately evaluated epidemiology studies which reported that exposures to the pesticide had adverse neurological impacts on infants and children -- an issue that affects not only chlorpyrifos, but the other organophosphates (OP) that EPA has concluded are subject to a Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X factor based on these studies. (See EPA’s September 15, 2015, Literature Review on Neurodevelopment Effects & FQPA Safety Factor Determination for the Organophosphate Pesticides.)
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) members who reviewed EPA’s approach, based on these studies with regard to chlorpyrifos, generally had concerns with its proposed approach. When EPA nonetheless issued its renewed call for revocation of the tolerances in November 2016, eight days after the Presidential election, it was seen by some as partly (if not fully) driven by a “political” calculus which ignored the lack of support of the FIFRA SAP.
The November 2016 proposal was based on more than the epidemiology studies which have proven controversial. At the same time, EPA’s arguments in the November notice relied on some of the earlier findings about the studies and FIFRA SAP’s review to fashion a “hybrid” approach which, not surprisingly, supported EPA’s previous conclusions.
This has led to charges of “politics over science” on all fronts, but in responding to the court deadline for a final decision by March 31, 2017, EPA has now declared it does indeed need more time to resolve the science issues, and argues that the general registration review process, with the chlorpyrifos review scheduled for 2022, gives EPA more time than what the court imposed. EPA has concluded that if a decision is needed now, the required burdens have not been met to change the current status of the pesticide. The order states:
- Following a review of comments on both the November 2015 proposal and the November 2016 notice of data availability, EPA has concluded that, despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved and that further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos. EPA has therefore concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution on those issues.
EPA has determined it needs more time, however frustrating that may be, to sort out the science. As such, it is allowing chlorpyrifos use to continue, but objections to EPA’s decision are expected by the petitioners who originally pushed for the tolerance revocations. The effect on other OPs with regard to the application of the FQPA uncertainty factor is unclear, at best. The science debate will rage on, with no clear timeline or process for how the ultimate resolution of these questions will be “final.” This political and legal back-and-forth may become the new normal for the Trump Administration as it seeks to balance a more “business friendly” regulatory approach with the stringent requirements of the statutory duties of underlying authorizing legislation across all of EPA’s programs.
By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom, and Lisa R. Burchi
On August 12, 2016, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order denying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) request for an additional six months to decide whether to ban agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos. The court opted instead to afford EPA a three month extension, stating that “this is the final extension, and the court will not grant any further extensions."
EPA sought the six month extension on June 29, 2016, to allow time for EPA to complete two scientific analyses that may bear on EPA’s conclusions in the final rule, and to request further public comment before taking final action on a prior proposal to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances. The two analyses that EPA wanted to complete are: (1) a refined drinking water assessment that may allow EPA “to develop more tailored risk mitigation for some regions of the country,” and (2) an evaluation of the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos to determine whether EPA should retain the point of departure based on acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition in the proposed rule.
The court concluded that EPA’s request for a six month extension “is not justified in light of EPA’s history in this matter as well as the court’s previous extensions.” The court stated that EPA’s request was "another variation on a theme 'of partial reports, missed deadlines, and vague promises of future action' that has been repeated for the past nine years,” and that “nothing has changed that would justify EPA’s continued failure to respond to the pressing health concerns presented by chlorpyrifos."
The court ordered EPA to take final action on its proposal to revoke tolerances for chlorpyrifos by March 31, 2017. A further status report by EPA will be due in November 2016.
EPA’s updated analysis of the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos will be a matter of considerable interest. After EPA issued a proposed rule utilizing a point of departure for chlorpyrifos based on AChE inhibition, EPA issued a blanket determination based on the epidemiological data for chlorpyrifos in which EPA decided to retain the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) safety factor for all organophosphate (OP) pesticides. This FQPA determination could cause EPA to conclude that the tolerances for chlorpyrifos must be revoked regardless of the outcome of the refined drinking water assessment.
EPA later proposed to use an alternative point of departure for chlorpyrifos based on biomonitoring data from one of the chlorpyrifos epidemiology studies, but the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) met on April 19-21, 2016, and recommended against this new approach. In its request for an extension, EPA stated that the FIFRA SAP might recommend a “hybrid approach” to adjusting the point of departure for AChE inhibition. The FIFRA SAP meeting minutes do not appear to include such a hybrid recommendation.
In a related development, EPA has reached an agreement with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) regarding the release of raw data from one of the chlorpyrifos epidemiology studies. During the FIFRA SAP meeting, concerns were raised regarding use of the CCCEH study without access to the underlying raw data. In an April 19, 2016, letter to Dr. Linda P. Fried, Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, EPA requested that CCCEH provide access to the underlying data. In her response dated May 18, 2016, Dr. Fried offered to work with EPA “to determine if we can develop one or more data sets that can be properly de-identified, consistent with our obligation to protect the privacy of our research subjects, and that will also enable EPA to conduct its own analyses in order to address its transparency goals” or, in the alternative, offered to allow EPA staff to review the original data “in a secure data enclave onsite at Columbia.” In its June 27, 2016, response, EPA stated that the offer to allow EPA staff to review the underlying data at a secure site did not resolve issues concerning the transparency of EPA’s analysis. This correspondence is available in EPA Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2008-0850. While EPA maintained it is “unnecessary” for CCCEH and EPA to develop redacted data sets, EPA accepted CCCEH’s offer to develop such data sets.
EPA’s request for a six month extension was filed on June 29, 2016, two days after it accepted the offer by CCCEH to develop redacted data sets for the CCCEH epidemiology study. Moreover, the FIFRA SAP meeting minutes issued on July 20, 2016, do not appear to provide the guidance that EPA had expected concerning a potential “hybrid” approach to adjusting EPA’s proposed point of departure for AChE inhibition.
Given the lesser extension granted by the court, it is questionable whether EPA will have sufficient time to review adequately the redacted underlying data sets offered by CCCEH, or even to determine whether those redacted data sets are adequate for this review, and to make any determination based on such data before EPA issues a supplementary proposal based on the refined drinking water assessment and the updated epidemiology assessment. The court has stated that it will entertain no further extension requests, so EPA must complete its work expeditiously to allow time for comment before final action is due on March 31, 2017.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Timothy D. Backstrom
On July 20, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memorandum attaching minutes from the April 19-21, 2016, FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meeting, Transmittal of Meeting Minutes of the April 19-21, 2016 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP or Panel) Meeting Held to Consider and Review Scientific Issues Associated with “Chlorpyrifos: Analysis of Biomonitoring Data.” This SAP was convened to advise EPA regarding the evaluation of biomonitoring chlorpyrifos data from epidemiology studies conducted by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH).
The minutes indicate that the SAP has significant concerns with EPA’s proposal to use the biomonitoring chlorpyrifos data from the CCCEH epidemiology studies to establish a point of departure (PoD) for chlorpyrifos risk assessment. The minutes state: “Because many uncertainties cannot be clarified, the majority of the Panel does not have confidence that the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) cord blood data on chlorpyrifos concentrations can accurately be used in quantitative risk assessment to determine a Point of Departure (PoD).” A major source of uncertainty cited by the FIFRA SAP is “the lack of verification and replication of the analytical chemistry results that reported very low levels of chlorpyrifos (pg/g),” because EPA had to impute a finite quantitative value to “a large fraction of cord blood samples included in the analyses presented with levels below [level of detection (LOD)].” Moreover, some SAP members “thought the quality of the CCCEH data is hard to assess when raw analytical data have not been made available, and the study has not been reproduced.”
The SAP also, however, stated that “both epidemiology and toxicology studies suggest there is evidence for adverse health outcomes associated with chlorpyrifos exposures below levels that result in 10% red blood cell (RBC) acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition (i.e., toxicity at lower doses).” Nevertheless, it agreed with EPA that “applying additional safety factors to the AChE PoDs to account for a possible noncholinergic mode of action (MOA) would be problematic because of challenges in justifying any particular value for such an adjustment.”
Of note, the SAP concluded that it would be appropriate to use a “10X intra-species extrapolation factor” in any analysis based on the cord blood data. It also identified other sources of uncertainty that should be considered in such an analysis, including “the inability of single measures of chlorpyrifos concentration in blood to provide information regarding source, frequency, duration and magnitude of exposure, and how these exposures are linked to specific outcomes measured in the CCCEH study participants.” Although EPA suggested in a Status Report filed in the chlorpyrifos litigation pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 29, 2016, that the FIFRA SAP might recommend a “hybrid approach” that EPA could use in lieu of a PoD based on AChE inhibition, thereby altering the prior EPA analysis for chlorpyrifos, the SAP minutes do not include a recommendation for such a hybrid methodology.
Given the concerns expressed by the SAP regarding EPA’s proposal to derive a PoD from cord blood biomonitoring data collected in the CCCEH epidemiology studies, it may be unlikely that EPA will further pursue this specific approach. It is less clear whether EPA will be inclined to propose any further adjustments to its existing risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, which utilizes a PoD based on animal AChE data, along with intra-species and inter-species uncertainty factors and an additional Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X factor. EPA’s decision to retain the special FQPA factor in its risk assessment for chlorpyrifos will remain controversial, because it is based on an assessment of the value and significance of several epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos that many in the pesticide industry strongly dispute. The discussion in the minutes of the uncertainties resulting from the refusal of the CCCEH investigators to provide underlying raw data may provide further support for arguments by industry that EPA should not predicate risk assessments on the epidemiology studies for chlorpyrifos before obtaining and reviewing these data.
More information on the FIFRA SAP and its surrounding legal issues is available in our blog item EPA Requests Six Month Extension of Deadline for Decision on Chlorpyrifos Tolerance Revocation, and more generally on our blog with keyword chlorpyrifos.