After 7 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a revised safety assessment of the highly neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. Unfortunately, even with this new assessment, the EPA won't provide the health protections that Californians need. Despite multiple studies that link chlorpyrifos exposures to harmful effects on the development and learning capacity of children, the EPA concluded that current uses of the pesticide can continue.
But EPA's assessment failed to account for the increased risks faced by rural and farm children, leaving them in jeopardy of continued unsafe chlorpyrifos exposures. All kids, rural or urban, may eat or drink food and water contaminated with chlorpyrifos. But in California's agricultural communities, there is often little separation between farms and the places where children live, learn, and play—homes, schools, and playgrounds may be right next to the fields where chlorpyrifos is sprayed. For example, an analysis by the California Department of Health found that chlorpyrifos was used within a quarter mile of 430 schools, many with predominantly Latino student populations.
This means that rural and farm children, on top of the chlorpyrifos they consume in food and water, confront additional chlorpyrifos exposures from the pesticide drifting off fields. Indeed, testing regularly finds evidence of chlorpyrifos in the air, water, and dust in people's homes in agricultural communities.
Aerial application of a pesticide. This method can make pesticides more prone to drifting off fields and into neighboring communities.
Furthermore, family members who work on farms can carry pesticides residues home in their vehicles, clothes and shoes, resulting in yet another source of exposure for kids in these communities.
Yet EPA's assessment ignored all of these extra threats for children in agricultural communities, and so fails to keep all our nation's children equally safe.
Scientists and public health advocates will be carefully reviewing EPA's assessment and asking the agency to correct the deficiencies. But in the meantime, to protect California's children, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation must not rely on EPA's faulty assessment. Instead, it must fulfill its duty to assure that pesticides like chlorpyrifos are used in a manner that does not cause harm to human health by completing its California-focused chlorpyrifos evaluation that has been stalled for more than a decade.
California is a state known for leading the nation with new, innovative, 'green' and healthier solutions—but chlorpyrifos is definitely not the cream of the crop. It's an outdated chemical with its roots in the poisons developed during World War II, and more than a million pounds of chlorpyrifos are used in California each year on a wide variety of crops including, citrus, broccoli, nuts, and grapes. California's agricultural bounty must not be at the expense of the health and well-being of its children, and we can do better.