Landmark Victory: California Ditching Chlorpyrifos in 2020

The bold move will protect children's health in the state and across the country—as well as get the ball rolling for other states to follow suit.

Child eating fruit, chlorpyrifos
Credit: Jacob Pritchard for NRDC

The bold move will protect children's health in the state and across the country—as well as get the ball rolling for other states to follow suit. 

California’s rural communities and children’s health advocates are celebrating the beginning of the end of the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos in the state. Late yesterday, California’s Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) announced a landmark settlement with Dow Chemical and other pesticide producers to phase out all spraying of chlorpyrifos in the state by the end of 2020. This phaseout is the most aggressive action to date by any state to secure public health protections in the face of the Trump administration’s refusal to ban the toxic chemical. 

California is ground zero for the fight to get chlorpyrifos out of fields and the food supply. The state uses more chlorpyrifos than any other state and accounts for approximately 20 percent of all chlorpyrifos used nationwide. The pesticide is widely sprayed on California’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables—poisoning farmworkers and nearby communities and threatening the health and development of kids across the country. 

An increasingly overwhelming body of science—including from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California's EPA itself—shows that exposure to low levels of chlorpyrifos in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay, and ADHD.  Children of farmworkers and those living in agricultural communities, who are primarily Latino, are most at risk because spraying in fields contaminates their air, water, food, and homes. 

California’s ban offers critical protections in the face of the Trump administration’s relentless refusal to ban chlorpyrifos nationwide—something NRDC and partner groups are continuing to fight in court. And as the country’s top user of chlorpyrifos, California is setting the stage for other states to discontinue the use of the pesticide. Hawaii has also started the process to ban the chemical, and the New York state legislature passed a ban that is awaiting the governor’s signature. Bans are also being considered in Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Oregon.

The settlement follows the CalEPA’s (Department of Pesticide Regulation) initiation of proceedings to cancel the registration of chlorpyrifos in California after decades of advocacy by agricultural communities and children’s health experts, as well as the introduction of legislation by Senator Maria Elena Durazo.  This cancellation process is based on reams of studies—by doctorsresearchers, and agency scientists;  even the courts have found that using chlorpyrifos puts children at risk, particularly children in California. 

Per the conditions of the settlement:

  • Sales of pesticide products containing chlorpyrifos will stop in February of 2020.
  • Farmers will be allowed to continue to spray the remaining stocks until December 31, 2020, subject to restrictions (more stringent than federal requirements) put in place last year. 
  • No spraying of chlorpyrifos will be allowed in California as of January 1, 2021.
  • Products formulated as granules (1 percent of total use) will be exempt from the phaseout; use of these products is not known to cause pesticide drift or food contamination.

This is a landmark victory for the health of California’s farmworkers, rural families, and children across the country and hopefully marks the end of chlorpyrifos nationwide and the beginning of healthier farming in California. Communities are looking to the governor and the CalEPA for continued bold action to get poisons out of our fields and usher in farming practices that care for workers, communities, and the planet. And we will continue to push the Trump administration to extend these protections beyond California’s borders to people nationwide.

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