Experts Support EPA Proposed Ban on Chlorpyrifos

Over forty-five scientific researchers, medical doctors, nurses, and public health professionals sent EPA a letter urging EPA to cancel the remaining agricultural uses of this dangerous neurotoxic pesticide, and praising the conclusions of EPA’s 2016 human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos that finds unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos in some of our favorite fruits and vegetables.

There is an old saying that slow and steady wins the race. But, when it comes to risks from unsafe exposure to toxic pesticides like chlorpyrifos, this isn’t the case. Instead, slow to restrict and regulate means that public safety loses. The only winners in this “regulatory rollback race” are companies that make and sell chlorpyrifos, primarily Dow AgroSciences – and that’s why chlorpyrifos is being aggressively defended by Dow and the pesticide industry trade group, CropLife America.

Under pressure from Dow and others, EPA has been slow to restrict uses of this pesticide – used to kill insects that damage crops - on farms and food crops. EPA’s decade-plus delay means farmworkers and families that live near farms and fields continue to be in harm’s way.

In its 2016 human health risk assessment, EPA identified unsafe chlorpyrifos residues in fruits, vegetables, and drinking water (see EPA updates here). NRDC experts Miriam Rotkin-Ellman and Veena Singla have written in more detail about how much chlorpyrifos is getting into our favorite foods. The punchline – and it hurts like a gut punch -  is that food residue levels are high enough to pose a risk to the developing brain and nervous system! That’s why EPA is proposing to cancel all allowable residues in food (called food tolerances), something that NRDC and scientific experts voiced strong support for.

EPA’s 2016 assessment finds that chlorpyrifos residues in foods can be 140-times (14,000 percent) higher than EPA’s acceptable exposure limit!

Graph shows the EPA target risk level for chlorpyrifos residue consumption, compared to amounts of chlorpyrifos residue consumed on food, in nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day for infants, children and women.

Source: USEPA 2014. Chlorpyrifos Acute and Steady State Dietary (Food Only) Exposure Analysis to Support Registration Review

NRDC, Scientists and Health Professionals have again spoken out to encourage EPA to protect the public from this dangerous and unnecessary pesticide. Our letter to EPA states, “Scientific evidence of harm comes from epidemiologic studies, laboratory toxicologic studies, and mechanistic studies demonstrating that chlorpyrifos is a powerful developmental neurotoxicant. Exposures to even very low doses of chlorpyrifos during critical windows of vulnerability during the nine months of pregnancy has been reported in epidemiologic studies to be associated with lower birth weight and adverse neurodevelopmental effects to children including diminished cognitive ability (lowered IQ) poorer working memory, and delays in motor development.”

Because of its health risks, over a decade ago, in 2001, EPA made sure that chlorpyrifos was banned from in-home use where it had been a common weapon against fleas, ants, cockroaches and other indoor pests. This important regulatory action brought levels of chlorpyrifos down to almost non-detectable in people’s blood, and had measurable benefits on birth outcomes. It is a public safety success story. But, it isn’t enough. Agriculture and other non-residential uses continue to poison farmworkers, families, food crops, wildlife habitat, and the waterways that are used for irrigation, recreation and drinking water.

Now, it is time for EPA to force the last of this chemical out of our food and drinking water. Slow and steady is not good enough. Instead, EPA must remember that Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.

EPA is under a court-ordered deadline from NRDC and others to take final action on its proposed ban by March 31, 2017. We are urging EPA to protect our Nation’s children by canceling all remaining uses of chlorpyrifos as soon as possible. Let public safety win this race, not powerful chemical corporations.

In the meantime, the best way to protect your kids is to go organic as much as possible when you’re pregnant or feeding kids in the house. (When shopping on a budget, this guide can help you make the best choices to avoid harmful residues.)


About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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