EPA’s Assessment of Dangerous Pesticide Leaves Communities at Risk

Continued widespread agricultural use of chlorpyrifos poses threats to children’s health


Kari Birdseye, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2098


Kimiko Martinez, NRDC, (310) 434-2344


Paul Towers, PANNA, (916) 216-1082

As 2014 drew to a close, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave a new year’s gift to industry and took steps to allow children and pregnant women to be more at risk of exposure to the widely-used neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, a chemical that interferes with brain development in fetuses, infants and children.

After years of waiting, EPA released their human health risk assessment, the result of a legal petition and several lawsuits filed by a coalition of environmental health groups. EPA’s new assessment relies heavily on one model and scant studies from Dow, the company that manufactures chlorpyrifos.

Fourteen years ago, the EPA banned household use of chlorpyrifos due to strong scientific evidence of negative effects on children’s health. However, agriculture uses were allowed to continue. 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 the growing scientific evidence of brain impairments to children and the detrimental impacts to children and communities when pesticide drifts from farm fields onto neighboring homes, schools and playgrounds.

“We have gone to court because EPA has allowed children to be exposed to developmental impairments like reduced IQ, autism, and attention deficit disorder. EPA’s assessment depends far too much on flawed studies from industry, and children are left in harm’s way,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, who represented the groups in legal actions related to the petition.

Though banned for home uses 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.

EPA had long ignored children’s exposure to pesticide drift and had failed to act on peer-reviewed scientific studies showing brain impairments to children exposed to chlorpyrifos. California EPA is also assessing the harms caused by chlorpyrifos.

“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. “There are numerous independent, peer-reviewed studies documenting risks to agricultural communities, but 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. Children in agricultural communities face the greatest risks. All children may consume pesticide residues on food and in drinking water, but rural and farm children additionally may be exposed to pesticides drifting from treated fields into the places they live, learn and play. Family members who work on farms may carry pesticide residues into homes on their clothes and shoes at the end of the day.

“Many studies link chlorpyrifos with severe and long-lasting impacts to children, including developmental delays, lower IQ and behavioral problems,” said Veena Singla, Ph.D., staff scientist with NRDC. “EPA is failing to protect all our nation’s children equally because they ignored the bigger threats faced by kids in agricultural communities—it’s unfair and EPA needs to do more.”

A farmworker harvests crops in a California field.
A farmworker harvests crops in a California field. Though banned for home uses because of dangers to children, chlorpyrifos is still heavily used on fruit and nut orchards, soybeans, and corn. (Dave Getzschman for Earthjustice)

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