EPA Bans Chlorpyrifos, Citing Neurological Concerns

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency has released a final ruling that bans chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that has been linked to neurological conditions such as developmental delays. The ruling, released August 18, will put a stop to the spraying of chlorpyrifos on fruits and vegetables across the country, Washington Post reported.

Chlorpyrifos has been used as a pesticide since 1965 in both agricultural and non-agricultural areas. Farmers used chlorpyrifos to protect crops like soybeans, almond trees and cauliflower when other pesticides failed to work.

Environmental organizations such as the Environmental Working Group(EWG) have classified chlorpyrifos as a neurotoxin. According to EWG, “it affects the nervous system and brain, and even small amounts of exposure can cause permanent health damage to babies and children.” The EWG states that the health effects include damage to:

  • Behavior
  • Emotion
  • Intelligence
  • Language
  • Memory

In addition to damage through prenatal exposure, studies have also found that chlorpyrifos can cause damage to infants and toddlers. This study is corroborated by the testimony that one farmworker, Claudia Angulo, gave to The Washington Post.

Angulo told the Post that she had been exposed to chlorpyrifos while pregnant with her son, Isaac, and since then, his hair has tested positive for chlorpyrifos. Isaac also has developmental delays, according to his mother.

The EPA’s latest action has included revoking all “tolerances” for chlorpyrifos. Tolerances establish what, if any, amount of a pesticide is allowed to be sprayed on food.

According to the EPA, this revocation of tolerances means that “chlorpyrifos applications to food commodities will result in food being considered adulterated.” The revocation also states that “distribution of adulterated food in interstate commerce is unlawful.”

This latest action also marks a reversal of course by the EPA under the Trump administration. In 2017, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided to keep chlorpyrifos on the market against recommendations by the agency’s scientists, who suggested the EPA restrict it.

In 2020, after conducting a Draft Ecological Risk Assessment and Revised Human Health Risk Assessment, the EPA determined that when considering the amount of chlorpyrifos people are exposed to through food, drinking water and residential exposures, “the Agency’s levels of concern are exceeded.”

The EPA’s decision to ban chlorpyrifos brings the federal government’s position in line with states like California, Hawaii, New York, Maryland and Oregon. Internationally, Canada and the European Union have also taken steps to permanently phase out the pesticide. Corteva Agriscience, formerly the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos globally, announced in 2020 that it would stop manufacturing chlorpyrifos.