By Sharon Lerner
What's at Stake
Widespread agricultural use of chlorpyrifos means that people continue to be exposed through contaminated foods, drinking water, and pesticide blowing off of farmland and into neighboring areas.
Early childhood exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause reduced IQ, developmental delays, loss of working memory, and other neurological damage.
In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned residential use of chlorpyrifos because of the harm to children exposed in the home. Chlorpyrifos continues to be heavily used on fruit and nut orchards, soybeans, and corn, with an estimated 5 million pounds applied in the U.S. annually. This widespread agricultural use means that people continue to be exposed through contaminated foods, drinking water, and pesticide blowing off of farmland and into neighboring areas.
In 2007, Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council, represented by Earthjustice, filed a petition asking EPA to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos to afford the same protection to rural children exposed through pesticide drift. PANNA and NRDC also asked EPA to protect children from reduced IQ, developmental delays, loss of working memory, and other neurological damage cased by early childhood exposures. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the pesticide because their bodies and brains are still developing, and chemicals that interfere with the nervous system during development may cause long-term or permanent damage.
When EPA failed to act, the groups went to court to force EPA to act. Each time, EPA promised to take action, but it continually missed its self-imposed deadlines. In 2013, the 9th Circuit had refused to order EPA to respond in the face of EPA’s promise to decide the petition by February 2014.
In December 2014, EPA completed a human health risk assessment confirming that chlorpyrifos causes harm to children’s brains at extremely low doses. EPA’s assessment also documented unacceptable risks to workers who apply pesticides or pick crops and drinking water contamination at levels that are harmful to children. More than 150,000 people urged EPA to ban chlorpyrifos in response to the 2014 assessment.
On June 30, 2015, the EPA announced it may ban the neurotoxic pesticide from use in agricultural fields. The announcement came after a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on June 10, directing the agency to act on the 2007 petition to ban the chemical.
Patti Goldman, Managing Attorney, Earthjustice: “Going up against brain damage in kids a public relations disaster.”