On March 29, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a statement refusing to ban chlorpyrifos used in agriculture. For decades, corn, wheat, apples and citrus have been sprayed with chlorpyrifos, shown to cause permanent brain and nerve damage in children. The EPA even admits this, but under chemical industry pressure still refuses to remove the product.
Environmental groups have repeatedly pushed the EPA to ban the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos, known to harm health, water and wildlife. Following the EPA’s March refusal to ban this hazardous chemical, on April 5, 2017 the environmental group Earthjustice, representing Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to direct the EPA to act within 30 days to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos, based on the agency’s repeated findings that the pesticide is unsafe.
Organophosphates were developed by the Nazis during World War II as nerve gas agents. Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate that in 1965 was registered as an insecticide in the U.S. by Dow Chemical Company for both agricultural and residential use to damage the nervous system of insects. Unfortunately, it has the same effect on humans exposed to it.
The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), passed unanimously in Congress, is a health-based standard that requires the EPA to protect children from unsafe exposures to pesticides. The FQPA requires the EPA to ensure with reasonable certainty that “no harm will result to infants and children from aggregate exposure” to pesticides. If the EPA cannot ensure that a pesticide won’t harm children, the law requires the EPA to ban uses of the pesticide.
Chlorpyrifos, due to its toxicity was banned for home use in the U.S. in 2000. Before that, it was used to treat carpets and in flea bombs and termiticides. Chlorpyrifos is harmful if it is touched, inhaled, or eaten. Even low-dose exposure to organophosphates has been found to harm brain development in children, leading to higher risk of disorders like autism. Prenatal exposures to chlorpyrifos are associated with lower birth weight, reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders, and delayed motor development.
Chlorpyrifos exposure may lead to acute toxicity at higher doses. Persistent health effects follow acute poisoning or from long-term exposure to low doses, and developmental effects appear in fetuses and children even at very small doses.
In 2007, Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a petition with the EPA seeking a chlorpyrifos agricultural ban based on growing evidence of risks and harm that would eliminate all uses of the pesticide. Seven years and several lawsuits and delays later, the EPA had still not taken action on the petition. In September, 2014 on behalf of PANNA and NRDC, Earthjustice filed a petition in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals compelling the EPA to act on the petition. Finally, on October 31, 2015, the court ordered the EPA to issue a final response to the petition. Under pressure from chemical lobbyists, the deadline was not met, causing the court in August, 2016 to tell the EPA to take final action on the petition by March 31, 2017, which on March 29, 2017 it refused to do.
Chlorpyrifos, under the Dow Chemical Company trade name Lorsban, is widely used in U.S. agriculture. Farmworkers are exposed to it from mixing, handling, and applying the pesticide, and from entering fields where chlorpyrifos was recently sprayed. Those living in agricultural communities are affected by chlorpyrifos through contact with contaminated food and drinking water. On November, 2016, the EPA released a revised human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos that confirmed there are no safe uses for the pesticide, saying that:
- All food exposures exceed safe levels.
- Children are exposed to levels of chlorpyrifos that are 140 times what EPA deems safe.
- Pesticide drift reaches unsafe levels at 300 feet from the field’s edge.
- Chlorpyrifos is found at unsafe levels in air at schools, homes, and communities in agricultural areas.
- All workers who mix and apply chlorpyrifos are exposed to unsafe levels of the pesticide even with maximum personal protective equipment and engineering controls.
- Unsafe exposures continue on average 18 days after applications.
- Field workers are allowed to re-enter fields within 1-5 days after pesticide spraying.
Chlorpyrifos is a health hazard to all of us. We are exposed to chlorpyrifos through residue on food, drinking water contamination, and toxic spray drift from pesticide applications. It is widely sprayed on apples, oranges, strawberries, corn, wheat, soybeans, citrus, and other foods that we eat. The USDA’s Pesticide Data Program found chlorpyrifos residue on citrus and melons, even after being washed and peeled.
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