Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


EPA halts safety review, putting Washington farmworkers, children and pregnant women potentially at risk

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today seeks to join a federal lawsuit demanding that Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt complete a scientific safety review of the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. Pruitt abruptly halted a review already underway earlier this year.

According to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the EPA can allow the continued use of a pesticide at certain levels only if it finds that pesticide to be safe.

Ferguson, four other states and the District of Columbia filed a motion today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to join League of United Latin American Citizens v. Pruitt. In the motion, Ferguson and the states argue that by stopping the safety review, the EPA is allowing the use of chlorpyrifos to continue without determining that the pesticide is safe.

“President Trump’s EPA is willfully ignoring scientific evidence that chlorpyrifos is harmful to human health,” Ferguson said. “Washington consumers, farmworkers and farm operators deserve an administration that respects science and cares about the risks to their health.”

Chlorpyrifos is an ingredient in numerous pesticide products, used on more than 80 food crops nationwide. People who buy these foods, including apples, strawberries and cherries, may be eating residue of chlorpyrifos.

Scientific evidence has documented the harmful effects chlorpyrifos has on human health, such as lower IQ and attention deficit disorders. Children are at the highest risk of exposure, as well as pregnant women. Farmworkers and those living in agricultural communities also experience dangerous levels of exposure. Other than by consuming residue on food, unsafe exposure to chlorpyrifos can occur through drifting during a pesticide application and by entering treated fields up to 18 days afterward.

As of 2015, there were nearly 100,000 agricultural workers in Washington state working on about 7,312,000 acres of cropland statewide.

Additionally, the EPA has not deemed any level of chlorpyrifos in drinking water to be safe.

Due to these safety concerns, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) filed a petition with the EPA requesting the agency revoke the use of chlorpyrifos in 2007. More than eight years later, the EPA began the rulemaking process to prohibit all uses of chlorpyrifos on food. In 2016, EPA published a proposed rule that would have revoked all uses of the pesticide on food.

The EPA suddenly stopped its review of the pesticide on March 29, leaving current rules in place. The only reasoning given by the agency claimed that the scientific research on the effects of chlorpyrifos remain “unresolved.”  

The League of United Latin American Citizens, along with PANNA, NRDC and several other nonprofit organizations, filed an objection to the EPA’s decision in June.

Throughout the rulemaking process, the EPA acknowledged that it had not determined that the current levels of chlorpyrifos permitted for use are safe. The agency reviewed several studies detailing the neurodevelopmental damage the pesticide causes. By November 2016, it noted that it had not received any evidence showing any amount of chlorpyrifos is safe.    

Other states asking permission to join the case include New York, Maryland, Vermont, and Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia.

The court has not yet set oral argument in this case.

Counsel for Environmental Protection chief Bill Sherman is leading the case for Washington. In 2016, Ferguson created the Counsel for Environmental Protection to protect our environment and the safety and health of all Washingtonians.

The Attorney General’s Office has prevailed in three cases against the Trump Administration. Every court to have issued a decision has ruled in favor the Washington Attorney General’s Office in cases it brought against the Trump Administration. These cases include:

  • In January, a federal judge granted the Attorney General’s request to block implementation of President Donald Trump’s first travel ban executive order. A three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously agreed with that decision. The Trump Administration decided not to appeal and agreed to pay the state of Washington’s legal costs.
  • After the Attorney General’s Office and a multistate coalition asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to review the administration’s delay in implementing new energy efficiency rules for ceiling fans, the U.S. Department of Energy conceded and announced that the rules would go into effect. 
  • On July 3, after the Attorney General’s Office intervened in a lawsuit against the EPA challenging delays in implementing a rule regulating emissions from new oil and gas facilities, a federal panel ruled against the EPA.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.



Brionna Aho, Interim Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov