"Restricted use": right direction, but won't protect our kids and communities from toxic pesticide

When the average person hears that the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) is making chlorpyrifos a "restricted use" pesticide, they tend to think that it's a good thing. And, in general, it is.

But despite its impressive-sounding name, "restricted use" really just amounts to some additional paperwork for those that want to use it. A permit will be required for a farmer, for example, to apply chlorpyrifos (a neurotoxic pesticide that negatively impacts brain development in children and fetuses) to his or her crops. But otherwise it's business as usual. So, instead of being a big leap forward in regulating the use of this hazardous chemical, it's more like a baby step.

Not far enough

"Restricted use" does little to protect kids or change the status quo, because there are no new restrictions on where or how chlorpyrifos is used - chlorpyrifos can still be used near schools and other sensitive sites, and more than a million pounds (the amount used in 2010) can continue to be dumped on California's fields. It means that antiquated methods like air blasters will keep releasing clouds of chlorpyrifos over crops, because there are no new restrictions on application methods ... despite the evidence showing that these methods are inefficient and can result in large amounts of pesticide drifting off the field into neighboring communities.

The silver lining is the new permits will provide more information on chlorpyrifos use and allow for better reporting and monitoring. But without additional restrictions, it's woefully inadequate to protect California's families and environment.

What's really needed are restrictions on chlorpyrifos use that will protect the most vulnerable, with an eye towards ultimately phasing out this hazardous neurotoxic pesticide.

Protecting children

It's been 10 years since Cal/EPA started their re-evaluation of chlorpyrifos. And earlier this year, I blogged about the studies showing that our water is contaminated, our air is contaminated, and that chlorpyrifos exposures are harming California's children.

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Above: Cal/EPA's proposal contains no special protections for young children who are more vulnerable to chlorpyrifos' toxic effects.

Nothing has changed since then. And the pile of studies with troubling data has only grown:

  • The California Department of Public Health found that chlorpyrifos is used in close proximity to more than 430 schools throughout the state.
  • Chlorpyrifos is still polluting the air of communities. Cal/EPA's most recent air monitoring report shows frequent chlorpyrifos detections, at similar or higher levels than what was found in previous years.
  • A study from UC Davis found that autism risks tripled for kids when moms lived near fields treated with chlorpyrifos during the second trimester of pregnancy.

The new studies just further document what we have known for decades: chlorpyrifos interferes with normal brain development; the pesticide is frequently carried off fields (by evaporation, wind and the normal distribution and processing of crops); and fetuses, infants, and children are at risk.

Please join us in asking Cal/EPA for common-sense limits on chlorpyrifos use, such as protective buffer zones around schools.

About the Authors

Veena Singla

Senior Scientist, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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