Jul 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pesticide caused brain damage in children, lawsuits allege

Photo of a row of green crops against a blue sky

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Lawsuits filed Monday are seeking damages from Dow Chemical and its successor company over a bug killer that allegedly causes brain damage in children, AP reports.

Why it matters: Chlorpyrifos is approved for use on over 80 crops, per AP. But studies show the pesticide damages the brains of fetuses and children. It was banned for household use in 2001.

  • California, the largest agricultural state in the U.S., has barred people from selling or spraying pesticides. But state records show 61 million pounds of the pesticide were administered from 1974 through 2017 in the four counties where the lawsuits were filed, according to AP.

State of play: The plaintiffs filed the lawsuits on behalf of their children, who allegedly suffer neurological injuries. They argue their exposure to chlorpyrifos while in the womb or when very young led to the damage.

  • Lawyers estimate that at least 100,000 homes may have to dispose of most of their belongings due to contamination.
  • Corteva, Dow's affiliate, said it stopped producing the pesticide last year due to declining sales but maintains that the product is safe.

What they're saying: "We have found it in the houses, we have found it in carpet, in upholstered furniture, we found it in a teddy bear, and we found it on the walls and surfaces," Stuart Calwell, the suits' lead attorney, told AP. "Then a little child picks up a teddy bear and holds on to it."

  • All of it needs to be cleaned up because "it's not going away on its own," he added.
  • "We believe that the lawsuits are without merit and will vigorously defend against these recent unfounded allegations," Corteva said in a statement to Axios. "When used according to the label, chlorpyrifos is safe for all approved uses ... No other pesticide has been more thoroughly tested."
  • Dow did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

What to watch: The lawsuits are a precursor to seeking class-action status, according to Calwell.

The big picture: The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a ban of the pesticide.

Worth noting: Calwell has filed several lawsuits on behalf of farmworkers for similar allegations against various farming companies.

  • One ended in a $93 million settlement in which Monsanto paid to decontaminate 4,500 homes over a company product—a defoliant once known as Agent Orange.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from Corteva, Dow's affiliate.

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