Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined his counterparts in six states in filing a formal challenge on Tuesday of the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to not label a common pesticide as unsafe for humans in any quantity.
It's the latest action by Frosh and other Democratic attorneys general against environmental actions taken by President Donald Trump's administration.
In this one, the attorneys general of Maryland, California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Washington and Vermont accuse the EPA of violating federal law by ignoring a science-based recommendation regarding the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
Under former President Barack Obama, the agency had been on track to revoke standards setting "safe" chlorpyrifos exposure levels, but the Trump EPA reversed course in March, saying the decision required further study.
Chlorpyrifos is one of the country's most widely used insecticides, and its residue has been detected in baby foods and juices.
Research has shown it inhibits brain and central nervous system development and functioning, linking it to cognitive and motor development delays by age 3, poor working memory and IQ scores by age 7, and movement disorders such as arm tremors by age 11.
The attorneys general argue EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is ignoring his agency's own science in leaving current safety standards in place. They say that under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, EPA can't do that without evidence to justify the decision.
"EPA's own scientists say chlorpyrifos is not safe," Frosh said in a statement. "Scott Pruitt is not doing his job when he gives the green light to chemicals that jeopardize the health of infants, children and pregnant women."
In its March order, EPA postponed a decision on the pesticide until 2022 and said it would continue studying its safety.
Dow AgroSciences, which produces the chemical, said it supported that action and expressed confidence "that authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety."
The company called it "the right decision for farmers who, in about 100 countries, rely on the effectiveness of chlorpyrifos to protect more than 50 crops."
The filing by the attorneys general asks the EPA to vacate the March order and move within 60 days to respond to their objections by revoking the chlorpyrifos standards.
It could be the first step toward a lawsuit against EPA — if the attorneys general are dissatisfied with the agency's response, they could take the matter to federal court, a Frosh spokeswoman said.
This spring, the General Assembly passed legislation expanding the attorney general's power to sue the federal government.
Frosh previously joined other states in seeking to defend Obama-era standards on light-duty vehicle emissions and energy efficiency. He and colleagues also last month sought to intervene in a lawsuit filed by House Republicans over the Affordable Care Act.