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Aerial application of pesticides in a standard practice in the Mississippi Delta.
Aerial application of pesticides in a standard practice in the Mississippi Delta.

Senators seek to force EPA to ban use of chlorpyrifos

Activists claim chlorpyrifos compound poses threat to children, farmworkers.

A group of U.S. senators has filed a first-of-its-kind bill in Congress that would require EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, the active ingredient in Lorsban and other insecticides that are used in a number of row and orchard crops.

The Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act, S-1624, would amend the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to prohibit all chlorpyrifos use in food, according to a press release.

It would also direct EPA to partner with the National Research Council to “assess the neurodevelopmental effects and other low-dose impacts that exposure to organophosphate pesticides has on agricultural workers and children and educate the public about the history of this nerve agent pesticide and the communities that are in harms' way.”

Sponsor of the bill include Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Ben Carden, D-Md.; and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., some of whom spoke at a press briefing in Washington sponsored by Earthjustice.

“The chemical industry can and must do better than continue to push for the use of nerve agents in our food,” said Andrea Delgado, legislative director of Earthjustice’s Healthy Communities program. “This bill comes at a crucial time when scientific integrity and the protection of the public is compromised by industry collusion with the administration.”

History of safe use

In response to the filing of the bill, Dow AgroSciences issued a statement stressing the history of safe and effective use of the insecticide, which was first introduced for crop use in 1965.

“Current regulatory safety standard for chlorpyrifos rests on five decades of experience in use, health surveillance of manufacturing workers and applicators, and more than 4,000 studies and reports examining the product in terms of health, safety and the environment,” the statement said.

“A full weight of evidence evaluation from thousands of studies, along with a critical examination of the studies being cited by some who have raised safety questions, shows that current uses of chlorpyrifos meet the regulatory standard of a “reasonable certainty of no harm” for humans, including children. Authorized uses of chlorpyrifos products, when used as directed, offer wide margins of protection for human health and safety.”

More than 30 representatives from health, labor and civil rights organizations from across the country attended the briefing. The group is urging officials to support the bill and protect the health of the millions of workers and children who are exposed to chlorpyrifos every year.

“No family should be facing a life of special needs because of chlorpyrifos,” the representatives said in a statement. “If the EPA refuses to protect the health of our children and agricultural workers, then lawmakers from both sides of the aisle must do their job and back the chlorpyrifos ban bill. The health of our communities depends on it.”

On July 18 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to direct the Environmental Protection agency to act on a lawsuit brought by the Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council that would have required EPA to decide whether to ban chlorpyrifos.

Activists’ claims

The representatives of the activist groups said chlorpyrifos is linked to long-term damage to children’s developing brains and nervous systems even at low levels of exposure during pregnancy and early childhood. It is also acutely toxic. Those claims appear to be based on a Columbia University study, in which the studies authors have declined to release their data.

‘Science unresolved”

In March, the EPA said the science behind the safety of chlorpyrifos is unresolved and that it would continue to study the issue until 2022.

The Earthjustice press release said the decision came weeks after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt met with officials at Dow, which manufactures and distributes chlorpyrifos under the name of Lorsban.

In refusing a ban, the EPA reversed its own proposal to ban all food crop uses of chlorpyrifos during the Obama administration. Groups represented by Earthjustice have appealed the EPA decision directly with the agency. Attorney generals from various states, too, have called for a ban in their own appeals to the EPA.

To read EPA’s ruling on chlorpyrifos, click on

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