EPA sued for approving toxic herbicides with Agent Orange chemical

The herbicides were re-registered by the EPA without full consideration of the risks or consultation with wildlife agencies—the experts—as the Endangered Species Act requires.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for unlawfully reapproving toxic herbicides used to grow food that contain 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), an active ingredient used in the chemical weapon Agent Orange.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Alianza Nacional De Campesinas, Inc., are suing the EPA for approving Enlist One and Enlist Duo, both of which contain 2,4-D and are sprayed on soybeans, corn and cotton that have genetically engineered (GE) resistance to the herbicides, Food Safety Magazine reported.

“EPA unlawfully ignored the environmental and public health risks of Enlist herbicides,” said Kristina Sinclair, CFS attorney and counsel for the plaintiffs, in a press release from the Center for Food Safety. “And by failing to address Enlist’s adverse effects, EPA is jeopardizing hundreds of endangered species across the country.”

The EPA was aware that renewing the registrations of Enlist herbicides in January of 2022 would cause harm to wildlife and rural communities, according to the lawsuit, by significantly increasing the amount of glyphosate and 2,4-D in the environment, polluting waterways, damaging crops and native plants and destroying the habitats of endangered and threatened species, reported Food Safety Magazine.

“[The herbicides] are highly toxic and have devastating impacts on wildlife and rural communities that live near sprayed fields,” said Sinclair, as The Guardian reported.

The plaintiffs claim that the registration decisions by the EPA violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by not properly considering the adverse health and environmental effects of the herbicides before approving them for an additional seven years, reported Food Safety Magazine.

Plaintiffs also claim that, because of the potential harmful effects of the chemicals on hundreds of endangered and threatened species across the rural U.S., the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act.

The herbicides were re-registered by the EPA without full consideration of the risks or consultation with wildlife agencies — the experts — as the Endangered Species Act requires. In addition, the EPA failed to examine its own proposed impact mitigation measures.

“EPA’s analysis does not reflect actual use of these products in real-world agriculture. Some crops, such as lettuce and onions, are highly susceptible to damage. Growers who wish to plant alternative and non-GE crops are unable to do so without risking significant loss. The court must reverse this approval to protect all farmers,” said Rob Faux, Iowa farmer, Communications Manager for Pesticide Action Network and plaintiff, in the press release.

Prior to the current lawsuit, two others led by CFS were filed against the EPA for improper authorization of the herbicides by Enlist, Food Safety Magazine reported.

The chemical 2,4-D had not been sprayed over crops before the initial approval of Enlist and GE crops that were resistant to it.

EPA’s original approval of Enlist Duo in 2014 was challenged by CFS and PANNA. The Ninth Circuit Court held in 2020 that EPA’s prior registrations of the herbicide were in violation of FIFRA due to an underestimation of risks to monarch butterflies and milkweed plants.

EPA revoked Enlist Duo’s registration in 2015 after the agency recognized that the chemical had the potential to be more harmful and toxic than had initially been believed.

Using 2,4-D has been associated with a greater risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The chemical has been classified by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as a possible carcinogen to humans, while glyphosate has been classified as one that is probably carcinogenic.

“Farmworkers and rural communities are experiencing significant health effects from Enlist herbicides. 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,” said Mily Trevino-Sauceda, executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Inc., in the press release.


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Cristen is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from University of Oregon School of Law and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of the short story collection The Smallest of Entryways, as well as the travel biography, Ernest’s Way: An International Journey Through Hemingway’s Life.