Lawsuit Urges EPA to Ban Neurotoxic Pesticide

After 7 years of delays, groups call for action on chlorpyrifos


Kari Birdseye, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2098


Kimiko Martinez, NRDC, (310) 434-2344


Paul Towers, PAN North America, (916) 216-1082


A coalition of environmental health groups today sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking a federal court to require a ban on chlorpyrifos. The chemical is a widely-used toxic pesticide that can interfere with brain development in fetuses, infants and children.

The EPA used scientific evidence to support its ban on household use of chlorpyrifos 14 years ago. Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) urged the agency in 2007 to extend the ban to all uses.

“Because of its continued widespread agricultural use, thousands of people are still exposed to this toxic chemical through contaminated foods, drinking water and the air around farmland,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman.

Though banned in the home because of dangers to children, chlorpyrifos is still 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.

“Chlorpyrifos disproportionally impacts farmworkers and their families, rural school children, and other residents,” said Luis Medellin, a farmworker and member of PANNA. “My family has dealt with the problems of chlorpyrifos exposure, finding it at unacceptable levels in our air and in our bodies. We don’t know the long-term impacts and we shouldn’t have to worry. EPA has failed its responsibility to protect communities from hazardous pesticides.”

Medellin lives in the agricultural town of Lindsay, California, where chlorpyrifos is sprayed routinely on the orange groves surrounding his parents’ home and along Medellin’s commute to work. During the growing season, the family has been awakened by the sickly smell of nighttime pesticide spraying. What followed was worse: searing headaches, nausea and vomiting. After undergoing testing for pesticides in his body in 2006, the 24-year-old Medellin discovered concentrations of chlorpyrifos breakdown compounds nearly five times the national average for adults, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

EPA officials began their review of the chemical in 2001, while California officials began a review in 2004. Few changes to the chemical’s use have resulted to date, despite mounting evidence of harm.

“The science on health impacts—together with many personal stories—overwhelmingly supports the need for a phase out,” said Margaret Reeves, Ph.D., senior scientist at PANNA. “EPA and California officials have moved at a snail’s pace, and have failed to protect children’s health.”

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.

“Many studies have found severe and long-lasting impacts to children, including developmental delays, lower IQ and behavioral problems,” said Jennifer Sass, Ph.D., senior scientist with NRDC. “Families can’t wait any longer—EPA needs to move swiftly to protect kids from chlorpyrifos.”

An orange orchard.

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