By Allison Johnson and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Natural Resources Defense Council
This summer, a federal court offered the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler, a chance to right one of Scott Pruitt’s wrongs: ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos. Instead, Wheeler has chosen to fight to keep this dangerous pesticide in the fields and on our food, at the expense of children’s health.
Today’s filing requesting rehearing of the 9th Circuit decision mandating a ban on chlorpyrifos sets in motion a legal fight that will delay health protections and put children’s health at risk. Now, more than ever, California—which uses close to 20% of all chlorpyrifos used in the U.S.—must fill the gap and suspend chlorpyrifos use in the state. Doing so would cut almost a million pounds per year used on fruits and veggies consumed by kids around the country, as well as keep this toxic spray out of the state’s agricultural communities.
An increasingly overwhelming body of science—including from EPA itself—shows that exposure to low levels of chlorpyrifos in early life can lead to increased risk of learning disabilities, including reductions in IQ, developmental delay, and ADHD. Farmworkers—many of whom are Latinx—and their children face additional, disproportionate risk because the chemical is used so close to where they live, work, and go to school—resulting in exposures from air, drinking water, and dust in their homes.
Fortunately, states have already begun to fill EPA’s leadership void. Hawaii became the first state to ban chlorpyrifos in June. Now it’s time for California to step up.
EPA’s decision to disregard science and health hits Californians the hardest. California uses more chlorpyrifos than any other state in the nation—close to 1 million pounds per year. An independent panel of scientists recently certified an analysis by the State’s own scientists that finds this widespread use threatens communities across California; hundreds of thousands of people are exposed when the pesticide drifts into backyards, homes, schools and playgrounds. Chloroforms exposures from residues left on food and contaminated drinking water also add to the total health burden on Californians.
In light of these threats, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has already started the process to list chlorpyrifos as a Toxic Air Contaminant, which may eventually result in new limits on chlorpyrifos use. This process is important, but it will take at least several years before any change is felt in communities currently at risk of being poisoned by chlorpyrifos.
DPR needs to, and can, do more—NOW—to protect Californians from this dangerous pesticide. DPR has the power to immediately suspend chlorpyrifos use, and a coalitionof environmentalists, farmworkers, and other public health organizations continue to call on DPR to take action.
California’s leaders have met challenge after challenge from the Trump administration with unwavering determination. With the health of children here and nationwide on the line, this is another critical opportunity for the state to do what Washington will not. As long as EPA continues to shirk its responsibilities to protect the environment and human health, California must continue to lead.
It’s time to protect the next generation of Californians and ban chlorpyrifos.
P.S. In case you haven’t been following the chlorpyrifos story, NRDC’s President Rhea Suh breaks down EPA’s reversal under Trump in this video: