EPA Proposes New Rules for Farmers Using Dangerous Insecticide

A farmworker gathers sweet potatoes in Mechanicsville, Va. Sweet potatoes are one of the many crops that chlorpyrifos is used on. Agricultural workers are at high risk for pesticide poisoning. (Photo by Lance Cheung/ USDA via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new restrictions Friday on a dangerous insecticide that it opted not to ban outright last year.

Having long been considered a threat to childhood brain development, chlorpyrifos has been banned for indoor and residential use since 2001 but continues to be used on crops.

The EPA waited years to act on a petition by environmentalists seeking a full ban, only announcing that it would keep chlorpyrifos on the market after the Ninth Circuit set a deadline for it to make such a determination by July 2019.

Taking the next step in the regulatory review process on Friday, the agency said those who spray the chemical should be made to use additional personal protective equipment. Other proposals laid out in Friday’s announcement include label amendments to address concerns about chlorpyrifos contaminating drinking water and efforts to mitigate “spray drift.”

For the group Earthjustice, however, such actions fall short of what is needed. A complete ban of the pesticide is the only way to truly protect children and workers from its harms, the group said.

“EPA is refusing to protect children from damage to their brains and learning disabilities,” Earthjustice managing attorney Patti Goldman said in a statement. “Even with the new protections, the agency is still failing children, who will continue to be exposed to chlorpyrifos at levels that cause lifelong damage.”

Goldman petitioned the Ninth Circuit to intervene again in response to the EPA’s July 2019 denial. That case remains pending. In the meantime, the EPA said Friday that it will also consider recommendations from the Scientific Advisory Panel’s September meeting after the group releases its report later this month. 

“Depending on the SAP’s conclusions, EPA may further revise the human health risk assessment,” the EPA’s release said. “After a thorough review of the best available science and carefully considering scientific peer review and public comments, EPA will then determine next steps in the registration review process for chlorpyrifos.”

Several studies show chlorpyrifos cause cognitive problems in humans, including memory loss and trouble focusing. The problems are particularly pronounced for children, as exposure to the chemical can lead to long-term, irreversible IQ reduction, attention deficit disorder and autism. The adverse effects to human health prompted the EPA to ban the pesticide for household use in 2001.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has said the pesticide is a crucial component for farmers in protecting their crops and maximizing the efficiency of their operations. Still, some states have begun banning the chemical, with Hawaii leading the way in 2018 and New York and California following in 2019. 

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