CA Must Choose Public Health Over Brain-Harming Pesticide

With the introduction of Senate Bill 458 by State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, California could finally stop the use of a pesticide poisoning agricultural communities and leaving a toxic residue on fruits and vegetables, endangering children around the world. California is the country’s top user of chlorpyrifos (say “klor-PEER-a-foss”), a pesticide linked to learning disabilities in children, using close to a million pounds per year mainly on fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

An increasingly overwhelming body of science—including from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California 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. Farmworkers—many of whom are Latinx and live in the Central Valley—and their children face additional, disproportionate risk because the chemical is used so close to where they live, work, and go to school—resulting in exposures from air, drinking water, and dust in their homes.

Ban Chlorpyrifos

Despite these dangers, the Trump Administration has refused to protect the public, and under Governor Brown, California’s agencies failed to take swift action to fill this void. But California’s new Newsom administration and the state’s Legislature are on strong footing to enact an immediate ban because doctors, researchers, agency scientists, and even the courts have found that using chlorpyrifos puts children at risk, particularly in California.

The American Academy of Pediatrics: has called for a ban because, “we are deeply alarmed that the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos contradicts the agency’s own science and puts developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women at risk.”

Children’s Health Researchers: published a review concluding that a ban is needed because, prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos, even at low levels previously considered safe, can lead to reduced IQ, developmental delays and increased risk of learning disabilities.

USEPA’s most recent assessment: found residues on fruits and vegetables resulting in exposures 140X acceptable levels in children and contaminated air and water in agricultural communities like California.

California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR): conducted an evaluation of their own, largely agreeing with the EPA scientists that current uses of chlorpyrifos put children at risk from unsafe levels of exposure from residues on food, contaminated water, and pesticide drift up to half a mile.

A three-member panel of the 9th Circuit: ruled recently that the U.S.EPA must finalize its proposed ban on chlorpyrifos—a pesticide linked to learning disabilities in children.1

We know from testing performed in California that the levels of chlorpyrifos in pregnant women, children, air, water, and food put children at an increased risk of learning disabilities.

With this bill, Californians have the opportunity to reject the Trump Administration’s protection of polluters—like Dow Chemical (producer of chlorpyrifos)—and show true leadership in children’s and worker protection. Hawaii recently banned use of this dangerous pesticide and Maryland has a ban bill pending. California, as an agricultural powerhouse and environmental leader, should too.

NRDC and our partners have been studying the science and advocating for a chlorpyrifos ban at the state and Federal level—first petitioning USEPA for a ban on agricultural uses in 2007. It’s time to protect our children and ban chlorpyrifos.


[1] EPA continues to fight this ruling, and a full panel of the 9th Circuit will rehear the case in March.

About the Authors

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman

Senior Scientist, Health and Environment program

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