Breakdown: Why the EPA is now banning a common pesticide

The decision comes after more than a decade of pressure on the agency to address the neurotoxic effects of the pesticide.
Published: Oct. 10, 2021 at 9:24 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Aug. 18, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will end use of chlorpyrifos on all food products nationwide.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide, acaricide and miticide used primarily to control foliage and soil-borne insect pests.

In August 2021, EPA released a final rule revoking all “tolerances” for chlorpyrifos, which establish an amount of a pesticide that is allowed on food. In addition, the agency will issue a Notice of Intent to Cancel under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to cancel registered food uses of chlorpyrifos associated with the revoked tolerances.

Chlorpyrifos is an inexpensive and effective pesticide that has been on the market since 1965. According to the EPA, approximately 5.1 million pounds of chlorpyrifos have been used annually in recent years (2014-2018) on a wide range of crops, including many different vegetables, corn, soybeans, cotton and fruit and nut trees.

Scientists estimate that U.S. farmers used more than 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2017.
Scientists estimate that U.S. farmers used more than 5 million pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2017.(USGS)

EPA officials issued a final ruling saying chlorpyrifos can no longer be used on the food that makes its way onto American dinner plates. The move is intended to better protect the children and farmworkers, according to the agency.

Farmers have been spraying chlorpyrifos on crops, including strawberries, apples, citrus, broccoli and corn since 1965. Up until 2000, it was also a common household item that was used to keep American homes free from ants, roaches and mosquitos.

Health and labor organizations have been waging a campaign to revoke the use of chlorpyrifos for years as it’s been shown to lead to headaches or blurred vision when inhaled or ingested. Some studies of families in apartment buildings found that exposure during pregnancy led to memory loss and other cognitive issues in children.

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, children who had chlorpyrifos in their blood had more developmental delays and disorders than children who did not have chlorpyrifos in their blood. Exposed children also had more attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity disorders.

Administrator Michael Regan called it “an overdue step to protect public health from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide.”

“After the delays and denials of the prior administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first,” Regan said.

The move to curtail use of the potent insect-killing chemical on food overturns a 2017 decision by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to keep the pesticide on the market despite a recommendation by the agency’s scientists to restrict it, given its potential risks.

“This comes after more than a decade of science in which it became pretty clear that there were potential neurodevelopmental effects on children that were being observed at lower levels than people had previously thought,” said Michal Freedhoff, the EPA’s top official for chemical safety and pollution prevention.

The Natural Resources Defense Council cheered the EPA’s move, but cautions that the pesticide can still be used on other things, including cattle ear tags.

Exposure to low levels of the pesticide in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay, and behavioral problems, such as ADHD. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientific analysis showed that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children through sprayed fruits and vegetables could exceed safety levels by 140 times.

When Trump’s EPA refused to follow through on a previously proposed ban of the pesticide, we took them to court—and won. The judges agreed that the EPA’s delay was illegal and ordered the agency to finalize its proposed ban on treating produce sold in the U.S. with chlorpyrifos.

The group also wants a ban on other organophosphate pesticides, which are in the same chemical family as chlorpyrifos.

The chlorpyrifos ban officially goes into effect in February 2022. You can read the EPA’s full statement here.

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