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EPA Can’t Justify Keeping Chlorpyrifos on Food

New report shows pervasive neurotoxic pesticide impacts millions in the United States


Erin Fitzgerald,

Today, Earthjustice released a new report focusing on the wide-spread use of chlorpyrifos in the United States and how the country is exposed to this pesticide through drinking water, food, and air. This report documents the location and amount of chlorpyrifos usage in the United States, as well as the dangerous health effects associated with exposure.

Key report findings:

  • The United States used over 5.6 million pounds of chlorpyrifos on agricultural land in 2017.
  • California, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Kansas used the most chlorpyrifos. Of the top 10 counties that used the most, four are in California and five are in North Dakota. While California has cancelled most chlorpyrifos uses, it cannot keep chlorpyrifos-contaminated foods from coming into the state.
  • Chlorpyrifos is allowed on 48 food commodities, including fruits, vegetables, meats, and their offshoot products. The commodities that have the highest allowable levels of chlorpyrifos are sugar beets, corn, and citrus.
  • People who live, work, or go to school near agricultural fields where chlorpyrifos is used experience dangerously high levels of exposure and are at elevated risk of harm.
  • Children between one and two years old are most at risk of neurodevelopmental harm and learning disabilities from chlorpyrifos; they face dietary exposures of more than 140 times the level the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set to prevent harm to their brain functions.
  • EPA said drinking water across the nation 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 would protect children.

Earthjustice reviewed and extracted data from chlorpyrifos human health risk assessments, as well as agricultural pesticide usage data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The data Earthjustice analyzed, which includes information on 16 other organophosphates, is available for the public to extract and explore in a searchable database at This powerful tool also shows what crops are sprayed, the foods that contain high levels of pesticide residues, and links to health risks evaluations and brief regulatory history. This is the first time that chlorpyrifos risk findings and USGS mapping data have been collated.

“The review of these data shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that people, most alarmingly young children, are being exposed to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos in their food and water,” said Rashmi Joglekar, Earthjustice staff scientist for Healthy Communities. “The EPA has had the scientific evidence for years that chlorpyrifos can lead to irreversible neurodevelopmental harm in children and the agency’s only ethical choice is to ban the pesticide for all food uses immediately.”

In April, after years of litigation led by Earthjustice and its clients, a court ordered EPA to ban all food uses of chlorpyrifos or retain only those uses it can find safe for workers and children. Per the court order, EPA must finalize its rule on August 20, 2021. While the only scientifically credible and lawful action for the agency to take would be to ban chlorpyrifos from all fruits and vegetables, it is unclear it will do so.

“For years, the EPA has avoided protecting children from learning disabilities and has kept chlorpyrifos on the market, in our food, and in our water,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice attorney who’s been leading the chlorpyrifos litigation. “The court has told the EPA, yet again, to ban the pesticide. It’s time for EPA to stop succumbing to industry pressure and start protecting children, farm workers, and their families.”

However, recent reporting from The Intercept shows that for years chemical companies like Dow have strong armed, tricked and persuaded EPA to use flawed science and keep harmful pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, on the market. These lobbying maneuvers are most likely ongoing as the court deadline looms. It’s time for the Biden administration to do the right thing and prioritize the health and safety of people over the interests of lobbyists and chemical companies.

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.