Ban Dangerous Pesticides

Pesticides are an enormous group of chemicals designed to kill unwanted insects (insecticides), weeds (herbicides), rodents (rodenticides), fungi (fungicides), and other so-called pests. The problem is, many of the chemicals used to kill pests also endanger human health. Commonly applied insecticides, for example, have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and learning disabilities.

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Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides because their bodies are still developing, and their diets and activities—such as playing on pesticide-treated lawns or eating a lot of fruits with pesticide residue—can result in high exposures. Yet government agencies can be slow to limit the use of these toxic products; they're hampered by pressure from pesticide manufacturers and their trade associations, who wish to avoid restrictions on their sales and profits. Delaying and derailing regulations leave the health of millions of people at risk. For example, organophosphates, a group of pesticides that were allowed in flea and tick treatments for dogs and cats, are known to cause damage to children's developing nervous systems. NRDC first highlighted this problem in 2000, and more than 15 years later we have had to take the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to court to protect kids from these pesticides.

We use scientific research and legal action to restrict or, in some cases, even ban dangerous pesticides. Our advocacy has helped remove millions of pounds of hazardous pesticides from the market, and we support safer growing practices such as organic and integrated pest management.

We focus on the most toxic pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to developmental delays, lower IQ, learning deficits, and persistent neurological problems in children. Recognizing the danger, and in response to our advocacy, the EPA essentially banned chlorpyrifos for household use in 2001 but continues to allow its use in farming. More than one million pounds of chlorpyrifos are being used annually in California alone, exposing farm workers and their families to harm. Children who live near fields and orchards are also at risk—in two California counties, for instance, more than 150 schools sit within a quarter mile of chlorpyrifos applications.

To keep all children safe from chlorpyrifos, we fight at the state and federal levels for stronger protections. We petitioned the EPA to ban the pesticide, and when the agency failed to act, we filed a lawsuit. The court ordered the EPA to respond to our petition, and in 2015 the agency proposed a ban on chlorpyrifos for food crops. NRDC is now monitoring the EPA to ensure it issues a far-reaching ban and joining forces with farm communities to push for safeguards in California.

Even as we work to have known toxic chemicals outlawed, we are also working to reform the way the EPA approves new pesticides. Right now, the agency gives a green light to chemicals before a full evaluation of health and environmental impacts has been completed.

Neonicotinoids, for instance, were approved before the EPA fully understood their grave impact on monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. This class of pesticides kills insects through a neurological pathway that also exists in humans. Because federal government testing revealed that the pesticides are showing up in many foods, this raises concerns about possible harm to people. To correct this regulatory failing, NRDC provides testimony as well as scientific and legal comments to the federal agencies, files lawsuits, and encourages citizens to call for stronger protections from untested chemicals.

Designed to kill weeds, herbicides have long been thought to be fairly benign to animals and people. Unfortunately, that misunderstanding has led to a widespread overuse of these chemicals, most notably glyphosate (found in Monsanto's Roundup weed killer) and, increasingly, 2,4-D. In addition to its agricultural uses, 2,4-D is also commonly used to control weeds on home lawns and gardens. NRDC has filed lawsuits and petitioned the EPA to restrict the use of glyphosate-containing herbicides—including the Enlist Duo, an herbicide containing both glyphosate and 2,4-D—because of their devastating impact on monarch butterflies. New findings that glyphosate can cause cancer in humans and that 2,4-D has been linked to a number of negative health effects—including decreased fertility, higher rates of birth defects, and other signs of endocrine disruption—only add urgency to the need to reduce use of these chemicals.

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