Smarter Living: Chemical Index
Chlorpyrifos (trade name Dursban) is a pesticide developed from a World World II-era nerve gas and is toxic to the nervous system. Though banned for home use, it is still allowed for use on golf courses, to treat wood and in food production.
Exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause nausea, dizziness, confusion and breathing difficulties at low doses. Higher doses can result in respiratory paralysis or even death. Young children are particularly vulnerable to chlorpyrifos and other pesticides because their bodies and brains are still developing, and chemicals that interfere with the nervous system during development may cause long-term or permanent damage.
Where it is Found
In 2000 the EPA banned the use of chlorpyrifos for household use, but it is still commonly applied on golf courses, on treated wood and in agriculture (mostly on corn, and also on orchard and vegetable row crops). Because of its widespread agricultural use, people are still exposed to this toxic chemical through contaminated foods, drinking water and the air around farmland. California reported 29 cases of chlorpyrifos poisoning in 2007.
Buy organic when purchasing fruits and vegetables. Berries, stone fruits and leafy greens tend to carry the most pesticide residue.
Wash all produce thoroughly before you eat it.
Check the labels on any older pest control or gardening products in your household to make sure they do not contain chlorpyrifos (or Dursban, its trademarked name). If they do, contact your sanitation department for information on how to dispose of it as household hazardous waste, or check Earth911.org for information on hazardous waste disposal in your area.
Choosing organic produce can help, but the most effective way to protect the American public is to ban chlorpyrifos completely. Safer, less-toxic alternatives are already on the market, making the use of chlorpyrifos unnecessary. NRDC and other groups have petitioned EPA to properly protect public health and stop the use of this highly toxic pesticide. The EPA is now reviewing the safety of chlorpyrifos as well as a group of related neurotoxic chemicals called organophosphates.
U.S. EPA, Chlorpyrifos RED (PDF), July 2006
last revised 12/28/2011