A toxic pesticide that’s linked to neurological damage in children is being banned in a major victory for families, citizen activism, and science.
Chlorpyrifos, also known as Lorsban, is a pesticide that farmers spray on corn, nectarines, peaches, cucumbers, broccoli, cranberries, apples, grapes and more than 40 other crops. As Moms Clean Air Force previously reported, studies have shown that children exposed to organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos face an increased risk for abnormal neurodevelopment, including persistent loss of intelligence and behavior problems. “Even low-dose exposures to organophosphates, particularly in the womb, has been found to harm brain development, leading to higher risk of disorders like autism.”
The nonprofit Earthjustice law firm compiled data about the extent of chlorpyrifos use in the US and found that not only was its toxic residue lurking on a variety of foods consumers might buy in the grocery store but that “anyone living near where chlorpyrifos is used can be exposed to unsafe levels through air (drift) or drinking water.” Children between one and two years old are most at risk,” Earthjustice noted, “as they face dietary exposures of more than 140 times EPA’s so-called level of concern.” The report also pointed out that EPA’s own analysts said drinking water across the US is likely contaminated with unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos. “EPA’s high end estimates indicate that in the most contaminated areas, chlorpyrifos contamination may be 12,000 higher than levels of concern.”
In 2015, the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency proposed banning the chemical on food crops, citing potential risks to human health. But in 2017, under then President Trump, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided against a ban despite recommendations from the agency’s own scientists to restrict it. Though concerned citizens petitioned EPA to reconsider, in 2019 the agency rejected their petition.
Environmental activists, scientists, public health advocates and parents weren’t having it.
“EPA has no basis to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, and its insistence in doing so puts all children at risk,” they wrote.
Farmworkers rights groups, medical associations, and environmental organizations led by Earthjustice agreed and united to file suit to force EPA to ban the chemical. On April 29, 2021, a federal appeals court ruled that EPA must do so. “The EPA must act based upon the evidence and must immediately revoke or modify” use of the chemical, the court declared, also observing that EPA’s “egregious delay” in taking earlier action “exposed a generation of American children to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos.”
Finally, on August 18, the EPA now under President Biden and with his full support issued a final rule banning all food uses of chlorpyrifos. Additionally, non-food uses of the pesticide, such as for mosquito control and in nurseries, are now subject to review next year.
“It took far too long, but children will no longer be eating food tainted with a pesticide that causes intellectual learning disabilities. Chlorpyrifos will finally be out of our fruits and vegetables,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman.
Added Kristin Schafer, executive director at Pesticide Action Network (PAN), “Today the EPA has released a plan that aligns with what scientists have known for decades: chlorpyrifos is much too dangerous to be using, and its continued use has put children, farmworkers and rural communities at risk.”
“After decades of fighting, LCLAA applauds the EPA’s ban on using Chlorpyrifos on produce. Finally, this hazardous chemical which had no place in the fields or in our communities, has been banned,” said Yanira Merino, LCLAA national president.
With this victory under their belts, activists will turn their sights on other toxic chemicals that threaten kids and families.
“Chlorpyrifos is just one of dozens of organophosphate pesticides in our fields that can harm children’s development,” Earthjustice’s Goldman said.
“EPA must ban all organophosphates from food.”