A 15-year fight to ban the toxic pesticide finally comes to an end.
UPDATE: On August 18, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will ban chlorpyrifos, following the April court decision ordering the agency to take action to protect the public from this toxic pesticide. “The ban will safeguard farmworkers, their families, communities, and the food supply,” says Allison Johnson, sustainable food policy advocate at NRDC. “This is a signal that the Biden administration is serious about following through on its commitments to environmental justice and climate-friendly farming.”
In a major victory for public health—especially for children—the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must ban chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that is commonly sprayed on food crops, including apples, oranges, and berries, unless the agency can identify a level of use that is safe for kids and infants.
“The court ruled in favor of science, which has clearly shown that chlorpyrifos is too dangerous to be used to grow our food,” says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at NRDC. Exposure to low levels of chlorpyrifos in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ and developmental delays, as well as ADHD and other disorders. The EPA’s own analysis found that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children through sprayed fruits and vegetables could exceed safety levels by 140 times. Farmworkers and their families, who are predominantly Latino, face the most exposure to this harmful chemical.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit—brought by NRDC and a coalition of labor and health organizations represented by Earthjustice—against the Trump administration’s illegal delays and resistance to the ban, which was first proposed under the Obama administration. “The Trump EPA had allowed the continued use of this toxic pesticide, even though they knew it is damaging to human health,” says Sass.
Thankfully, states like California, the top user of chlorpyrifos, didn’t wait on the EPA to protect the health of our children and the state’s farmworkers. Recognizing the threats the pesticide poses to agricultural communities, which already face disproportionate risks from contaminated air and water, California implemented a chlorpyrifos ban that went into full effect in January. Even Corteva (formerly part of Dow Chemical), once the world’s largest producer of chlorpyrifos, announced it would cease making the pesticide in 2020.
This important victory comes almost 15 years after NRDC and the Pesticide Action Network first petitioned the EPA to ban the pesticide from our food supply in 2007. Today’s court’s order will give the EPA 60 days to ban chlorpyrifos use on produce sold within the United States, unless it can identify uses that do not threaten kids’ and infants’ health. “This ban will ensure that kids can eat fruits and vegetables free of this neurotoxin,” says Sass.