(May 2, 2019) Several states are trying to ban a pesticide – chlorpyrifos – that some US EPA executives are fighting to keep on the market, despite the fact that the EPA’s own scientists have called for its banning. Kaiser Health News reported last week that lawmakers in several states are trying to ban a widely used pesticide that the Environmental Protection Agency inexplicably supports.
A pesticide derived from nerve gas used in WWI, chlorpyrifos kills insects by attacking their nervous systems. It also causes a host of problems for human beings, especially young children, pregnant women, people working in fields or living in areas sprayed with the poison, or anyone eating the pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. Many, if not most, non-organic fruits and vegetables are sprayed with this poison.
Kaiser Health News reported last week that several studies have linked prenatal exposure of chlorpyrifos to lower birth weights, lower IQs, ADHD, and other developmental problems, including autism spectrum disorder. Nevertheless, in 2017, top EPA officials closely aligned with pesticide industry lobbyists ignored the conclusions of the EPA’s own scientists. The compromised EPA officials rejected a proposal made during the Obama administration to ban chlorpyrifos in fields and orchards.
States Move where EPA Fails
Consequently, some states have been forced to take matters into their own hands. Hawaii was the first to act, banning chlorpyrifos last year. California, Oregon, New York, and Connecticut are now trying to do the same thing.
If California, the country’s largest agricultural state, is successful at banning the poison, many other states could follow suit, according to Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, Farmworker Justice.
In light of the EPA’s inaction on the matter, which has continued for at least a decade, Congressional Democrats introduced bills earlier this year to ban chlorpyrifos nationally. But given typical beltway acrimony and political prostitution arranged with millions of dollars in lobbying money from pesticide makers, states may have a much better chance at succeeding than Congress.
Presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) introduced a separate bill last week that would prohibit schools from serving fruits and vegetables sprayed with chlorpyrifos.
Three Dozen Studies show Chlorpyrifos Dangers
“I don’t see this as something we should still be debating,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist and director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of California-Davis. Ms. Hertz-Picciotto testified during a California Senate Health Committee hearing April 10 on California’s bill to ban chlorpyrifos. She said more than three dozen studies have demonstrated a connection between prenatal exposure of chlorpyrifos and developmental disabilities, including symptoms of autism.
“No study has identified a level at which we can consider it safe,” she told lawmakers. And therein lies the EPA problem with breaking its own rules, which state that it cannot green light a pesticide which has not been shown to be safe. With chlorpyrifos, the opposite applies.
In 2000, the EPA, which is charged with regulating pesticides at the federal level, ordered chlorpyrifos for residential use off the market. But the poison is still used liberally on many crops that include citrus fruits, grapes, and almonds. It’s also sprayed on golf courses and in other non-agricultural settings.
In 2015 under the Obama administration, the EPA proposed a complete ban of chlorpyrifos, citing evidence of health risks. But in 2017, President Trump’s EPA administrator, the disgraced industry apologist and partner Scott Pruitt, refused to ban it.
“Despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved,” the EPA says on its website. The agency did not return requests for comment. But the EPA rules are clear that this pesticide should be pulled entirely, that it should have been pulled 20 years ago when the agency banned it for home use.
US Court Orders Chlorpyrifos Off Market
Last summer, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered chlorpyrifos completely off the market, but the EPA is now fighting that decision.
EPA Averse to its own Science & Scientists?
“The EPA is contradicting the findings of its own scientists,” declared Aseem Prakash, the director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington. Mr. Prakash accused the EPA of serving the interests of the chemical industry over people’s health.
“It’s bizarre,” he said. “We have the research.”
Lorsban, Dursban from Dow AgroSciences
Several companies make chlorpyrifos products. The most recognized brand names in the US are Dursban and Lorsban, made by Corteva Agriscience, formerly known as Dow AgroSciences.
Pesticide Makers Respond
Industry “experts” paid by pesticide makers tell a different story. A former Dow Chemical Company employee Carol Burns, who now works as an epidemiologist for Corteva Agriscience, which profits from chlorpyrifos, argued that during the California Senate hearing that many studies link neurodevelopmental problems in children with the chemical compounds known as organophosphates. However, she said, they don’t link with chlorpyrifos specifically.
Ms. Burns claimed the science is not as clear cut as the EPA scientists and others have said that it is.
“Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate, but not all organophosphates are chlorpyrifos,” said Ms. Burns. She added that some of those studies focused on children born in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, children face less exposure to the chemical as a result of increasing restrictions on its use.
Chlorpyrifos, Chlorpyrifos Everywhere
Like Monsanto’s cancerous glyphosate, chlorpyrifos goes everywhere. It can be inhaled during application. It can drift into nearby areas. It can be ingested as residue on food. It can also run off and fields and contaminate drinking water.
Brief exposure can result in dizziness, nausea and headaches, while more acute poisoning can cause vomiting, tremors and loss of coordination, according to the National Pesticide Information Center.
But the most harmful exposure appears to be long-term exposure, even at low levels, for young, developing brains. A 2014 study by Hertz-Picciotto and other UC-Davis researchers found that pregnant women who lived near fields treated with chlorpyrifos, primarily during their second trimester, had an elevated risk of giving birth to a child with autism spectrum disorder.