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Victory for agricultural workers, but still more to be done: EPA moves to ban Chlorpyrifos on food crops | Streamline Winter 2016

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In October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to ban the use of chlorpyrifos in agriculture. This neurotoxic, broad-spectrum, chlorinated organophosphate insecticide has already been banned for most household uses for 15 years. The EPA is now proposing to revoke all food residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos, because the agency was unable to determine its safety as required under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). By revoking food residue tolerances, the agency is proposing to ban chlorpyrifos from agricultural use, although use in other industries will continue.  Several studies in diverse populations, including farmworkers, underscore the risks of exposure to chlorpyrifos, particularly in children.  Prenatal chlorpyrifos exposure correlates to reduced birth weights, delayed mental and motor development in preschoolers, and reduced IQ and delays in working memory in elementary school children. 

“For far too long, farmworkers, their children, and rural communities have continued to be exposed to a chemical that has been banned for use in homes,” said Amy Liebman, MPA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health at Migrant Clinicians Network. “The ban of this organophosphate in agriculture is an environmental justice victory that will have an important impact on farmworker health.”  

The EPA’s human health risk assessment, revised in December, 2014, confirms that the pesticide affects the neurodevelopment of children, resulting in the reduction of IQ and working memory, and poses a risk of pesticide poisoning for bystanders and farmworkers. 

The agency also concluded that the pesticide can accumulate in groundwater and affect farmworkers and other rural residents who drink well water. The EPA “has determined that safe levels of chlorpyrifos may be exceeded in parts of the United States for people whose drinking water is derived from some small vulnerable watersheds where chlorpyrifos is heavily used,” reads the EPA’s press release.  

The EPA first moved to evaluate the use of the pesticide in agriculture “to address previously identified drinking water concerns and in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA),” says the EPA’s press release. Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm representing the two nonprofit advocacy groups, sued the EPA, citing unnecessary delay in issuing a decision in response to the 2007 legal petition from PANNA and NRDC which called on the EPA to ban the pesticide. In August, the Ninth Circuit Court rejected the EPA’s timeline and required the EPA to make a decision by October 31, 2015, prompting the EPA’s October announcement.

While the EPA’s move to ban chlorpyrifos in agricultural settings is an important action to protect the health of agricultural workers, chlorpyrifos will still pose a serious threat to workers in other industries where chlorpyrifos will continue to be used.  “Non-agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos, including golf courses, turf, greenhouses, and on non-structural wood treatments such as utility poles and fence posts, are not affected by this proposed rule,” notes the EPA, despite the wealth of evidence indicating that the pesticide produces neurotoxic results for workers and members of nearby communities who may be exposed.   

“This is an important move in the right direction and we look forward to a full ban to best protect the health of workers and rural communities,” Liebman said.

RESOURCES

  • MCN’s Pesticide Reporting Map provides state-by-state pesticide reporting requirements and reporting contact information: http://goo.gl/qeU8VY 
  • EPA’s press release on the proposal to revoke chlorpyrifos: http://goo.gl/zholgw 
  • EPA’s page on the chlorpyrifos proposal, with links to chlorpyrifos fact sheets and other data: http://goo.gl/8XwFXi 
  • EPA’s Human Health Risk Assessment for Chlorpyrifos, revised December, 2014: http://goo.gl/ZCoRra 
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