By the Natural Resources Defense Council
New Mexico senator Tom Udall reintroduced a bill today that would ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos—a chemical adapted from World War II–era nerve gases—from being sprayed on fruits and vegetables grown in the United States. “Parents feed their kids fruits and veggies because they want the best for them—they shouldn’t have to worry it will harm their development,” says Jennifer Sass, a staff attorney at NRDC, which has been working to remove chlorpyrifos from the food system for more than a decade.
Udall’s bill joins a similar measure in the House of Representatives, introduced by New York congresswoman Nydia Velázquez earlier this year. Both address the continued failure by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban the chemical, despite the agency’s own research showing the harm it can do. “These congressional leaders have had enough of the Trump administration playing politics with children’s health and are taking matters into their own hands,” Sass says. More than a dozen studies have now concluded that even low levels of chlorpyrifos can lead to developmental delays, ADHD, and drops in IQ. Alongside children, farmworkers and those living in agricultural communities also face higher exposure and, therefore, higher risks.
NRDC, together with the Pesticide Action Network, petitioned the agency to ban the chemical in 2007, which nearly came to pass under President Obama in 2016. But soon after taking office, the Trump administration reversed course.
The relationship between the president and Dow Chemical, the nation’s largest producer of the pesticide, has since been called into question. Among other things, the chemical manufacturing giant reportedly donated $1 million for Trump’s inauguration, and its CEO previously played a chief advisory role to the president, heading up his now defunct American Manufacturing Council. “The Trump administration knows this pesticide is linked to learning disabilities,” Sass says, “but is fighting tooth and nail to keep it on our food and on our fields anyway.”
In addition to congressional action, states have been stepping up. Hawaii became the first state to ban the chemical last summer, and after reaffirming the pesticide’s health impacts, California seems poised to set more extensive restrictions. In addition, NRDC and the Pesticide Action Network, represented by Earthjustice, are pushing for a federal ban in court.