WASHINGTON – In defiance of a federal court order, on Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency extended the use of a weedkiller linked to cancer, pitting farmers who use it on genetically engineered crops against others whose adjacent fields can be devastated by drift of the chemical.
The EPA will permit three herbicides – Syngenta’s Tavium, Bayer’s XtendiMax and BASF’s Engenia – based on the chemical, called dicamba, to remain in use between 2021 and 2025.
The EPA’s decision ignores an order in June by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacating the use of dicamba. In its opinion, the court cited the EPA’s failure to acknowledge the risks the chemical poses to conventional crops and the environment.
“Protecting the pesticide industry has been a top priority of the EPA during the Trump administration,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Millions of acres of crops will continue to be damaged, and the health of farmworkers, children and all those who live near farms where dicamba is used will be at risk – all in the name of appeasing chemical agriculture.”
Dicamba is highly volatile and can easily drift onto unprotected neighboring fields from fields of crops genetically engineered to withstand it. As a result, it has destroyed millions of acres of soybeans, cotton and other crops throughout the Midwest. The weedkiller has become a poster child for the arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weedkillers.
Dicamba has been linked to increased risk of cancer and nervous system damage in pesticide applicators. A 2006 study by the National Cancer Institute found an increased risk of colon cancer for those who handle and apply dicamba to crops.
The EPA’s own risk assessment of the weedkiller shows children between 1 and 2 years old are the group most heavily exposed to dicamba residues on food. EWG’s analysis of the assessment found that if the EPA followed the rules to protect children’s health required by the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, dicamba would be banned.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler ignored the science showing dicamba can pose risks to the environment, farmworkers and children in order “to provide certainty” to farmers who have demanded they be allowed to continue spraying the herbicide on GMO soybean and cotton fields.
The dicamba decision echoes one of the first major decisions by the Trump EPA. In March 2017, then-Administrator Scott Pruitt vacated an expected ban of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the agency’s own scientists found can damage children’s brains.