EPA Proposes to Ban Dangerous Pesticide From Our Food

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally took a step today to protect all children from the harmful effects of the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos. The agency proposed a ban on the use of this brain-harming pesticide on food in response to a petition filed by NRDC, Earthjustice and Pesticide Action Network in 2007. If the proposal becomes a reality, it would be a huge victory, and provide agricultural communities the protections they deserve and have been denied for too long.

Fifteen years ago, after pressure from NRDC and others, EPA eliminated this neurotoxic pesticide from our homes. What the agency said 15 years ago is also true today of EPA's proposal to remove chlorpyrifos from our farms and communities:

This action is good news for the protection of our country's public health. It is good news for the environment. And it is particularly good news for children, who are among the most vulnerable to the risks posed by pesticides. - June 8, 2000 US EPA announcement

We knew in 2000 that farmworkers, their families, and children in agricultural communities were left in harm's way when EPA removed chlorpyrifos from the home, but allowed its continued use for agriculture. So we didn't stop -- we took EPA to court to make sure it protected all kids in the U.S., whether they lived in New York City or near an almond orchard in California.

Since 2000, scientists continued to research chlorpyrifos, studying how to trace the chemical in the environment, wildlife and people; the amounts of the chemical in these places; and what harm the potent neurotoxic pesticide might cause.

Almost 3,000 studies related to the chemical have been published since 2001, according to a PubMed search for the keyword "chlorpyrifos."

2,918 studies have been published with the keyword "chlorpyrifos" since 2001 (as of 10/27/15)

And with these studies, the evidence continued to mount that chlorpyrifos presents unacceptable risks to the developing brains of babies, farmworkers and agricultural communities.

The latest study underscores that chlorpyrifos is associated with long-lasting neurological damage to children--eleven year olds who had been exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb had tremors in both arms that affected their ability to draw. The study's authors expressed concern that this damage could hinder these children's writing abilities and success in school (Rauh, 2015).

Chlorpyrifos exposures in the womb are associated with arm tremors in eleven year old children, as shown in the sample drawing on the right (drawings are from Louis, 2015).

A search of California's Pesticide Illness database reveals almost 300 reports (289 total) of people sickened by incidents involving chlorpyrifos between 2001-13.

That is why it is such welcome news that EPA is proposing to prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos on our nation's food.

If this dangerous, World War II-era chemical does make its final exit from our fields, farmworkers would be safer on the job and children would have the chance to grow up healthier, free from its toxic effects. We look forward to working with EPA to swiftly implement the ban.

About the Authors

Veena Singla

Staff Scientist, Health & Environment program

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