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EPA sued over approval of cancer-causing weed chemical found in Agent Orange: 'Utter disregard for public health'

According to the groups that brought the suit, the EPA is underestimating the risk.

EPA sued over approval of cancer-causing weed chemical found in Agent Orange

Photo Credit: iStock

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. government used Agent Orange, a mix of herbicides, to kill the forests that provided shelter and crops for enemy troops.

The chemicals had horrific effects on the health of Vietnamese citizens and American soldiers alike, including causing cancer. 

Now, the EPA is under fire for approving the use of one of Agent Orange's active ingredients on everyday food crops in America, the Guardian reports.

What's happening?

The chemical in question is 2,4-D, which is used in the herbicides Enlist One and Enlist Duo. The Guardian reports that these chemicals are meant to be sprayed on fields of genetically modified corn, soybeans, and cotton, all of which are designed to resist the herbicide while it kills everything else growing in the field.

According to the Guardian, these herbicides were originally approved in 2014 and 2017. A federal court ruled in 2020 that the approvals were invalid, and the chemicals were up for review in 2021 as a result.

Why does this lawsuit matter?

The World Health Organization considers 2,4-D a "possible carcinogen," the Guardian reports, meaning that it may cause cancer in humans. It's been linked to breathing problems, birth defects, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Applying this herbicide to food crops increases the risk that people will be exposed to it. People in the communities where it's being used are likely to be exposed, and water runoff from the fields where it's used can contaminate nearby water sources.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that this toxic chemical affects a wide range of wildlife, from small pollinators like butterflies to deer and panthers. Many of the species that are vulnerable to this chemical are already endangered.

As if that weren't enough, widespread use of heavy herbicides is actually leading to outbreaks of weeds that are resistant to these chemicals, the Guardian reports. At the same time, spraying the chemical sometimes makes it drift into neighboring fields where it kills crops that aren't resistant to it.

Finally, one of the two chemical mixtures being discussed also contains glyphosate, another known dangerous chemical that has caused a lawsuit against the EPA.

What's being done about the chemical?

Several public health groups — the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America, and Alianza Nacional de Campesinas — filed a suit against the EPA over the chemical's recently renewed approval.

"Farmworkers and rural communities are experiencing significant health effects from Enlist herbicides," said Mily Trevino-Sauceda, the executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, a plaintiff in the case. "EPA's registration decision shows an utter disregard for public health. We cannot continue to permit the use of these dangerous herbicides without necessary evaluations or methods to protect affected communities."

As the Guardian explains, the suit is intended to force the EPA to reconsider its approval, this time using the correct data. According to the groups that brought the suit, the EPA used old data about how much of the product was being used, causing the agency to underestimate the risk.

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