Chesapeake PSR

Chlorpyrifos shows why we need to step it up on pesticides

Toxics and HealthTimothy WhitehouseComment

The case of chlorpyrifos illustrates the need for health groups to ramp up the fight for scientific integrity in our decision-making processes in regulating pesticides.

In the coming year, Chesapeake PSR will build up its involvement in pesticides issues in Maryland. Let us know if you would like to get involved in our effort to protect the public and the environment from toxic pesticides and to promote healthy alternatives.

Under the Obama administration, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists urged a chlorpyrifos ban after finding that there were no safe tolerance levels for humans, and that chlorpyrifos damages the nervous system. The insecticide is also linked to cognitive and motor decline in children who are exposed through drinking water and memory decline in farm workers. In addition, chlorpyrifos is associated with dizziness, nausea, preterm births and lowered IQ scores. 

Chlorpyrifos kills pests such as ants, moths and worms on about 60 crops. It is listed as a neurotoxin by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In his first act as administrator, after consulting with Dow Chemical’s top executive, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the position of EPA’s scientists, leaving in place the existing food tolerance levels for the pesticide. Dow produces chlorpyrifos.

In Maryland, Attorney General Brian Frosh is one of several state attorneys general in the U.S. that have filed appeals, claiming that Pruitt violated the law by ending his agency’s effort to ban chlorpyrifos.

In California, advocates helped force the state Department of Pesticide Regulation to enact stricter measures. California just listed chlorpyrifos as a "developmental toxicant." California has stronger regulations than most states, such as requiring buffer zones between the sprayed fields and residences.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is among the organizations that have written letters to the EPA urging it to reconsider the Pruitt decision.

Some U.S. senators also have sponsored a bill in Congress to ban chlorpyrifos. Led by Tom Udall (D-NM) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the legislation’s nine co-sponsors included Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D). 

In July, a federal appeals court denied a legal request by Earthjustice, representing groups including the Pesticide Action Network and Natural Resources Defense Council, to order the EPA to act on banning the toxic chemical.

Earthjustice also filed an administrative appeal to the EPA in an attempt to force Pruitt to issue a ban on chlorpyrifos.

The EPA banned chlorpyrifos for most home uses in 2000 but allowed it to continue to be commercially applied. Other countries such as England have banned the pesticide on nearly all crops.

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