EPA Tackles Highly Toxic Pesticide in Major Advance for Farming Areas in the U.S.

After years of pressure by public health and environmental advocates, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finally proposing to greatly restrict a dangerous, neurotoxic pesticide called chlorpyrifos. This chemical causes a variety of developmental problems and lowers IQs. The pesticide is especially dangerous to children and developing fetuses.

Despite mounting evidence of the harm the pesticide causes to farmworkers and their families, as well as documented contamination of food, air, and drinking water near treated fields, EPA has continued to allow agribusiness operations to spray the chemical on crops. In California alone, more than 1.1 million pounds of the chemical are being sprayed on agricultural fields each year, sometimes near public schools.

A coalition of advocates led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Pesticide Action Network of North America, Farmworker Justice, and Earthjustice has been working tirelessly to get this dangerous pesticide banned. They had an early success when the EPA restricted indoor use of the pesticide in 2000. In 2002, the agency further restricted its use on certain fruit crops, and in 2012, EPA established "no-spray" buffer zones around homes and public recreation areas. The new proposed rule would stop all agricultural uses of the chemical.

In June, the EPA said it would take formal action to tackle the food contamination issue, but it did not plan to act until spring of 2016. The public health and environmental groups objected to this delay and asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene. The court did and told the agency that it had until the end of October 2015 to either reject the organizations' formal petition, issue a proposed rule on chlorpyrifos, or issue a final rule. The agency chose to propose the agricultural ban because it said combined exposure to chlorpyrifos in food and drinking water could be unsafe.

The agency is scheduled to issue a final rule on the pesticide in December 2016.

Dow Chemical, a manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, has been lobbying against restrictions on its use.

Dow Chemical, which manufactures chlorpyrifos and opposes restrictions on its use, spent more than $36 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies between 2012 and 2014. It had 26 lobbyists to undertake this work in 2014, and it is also a board member of the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry's main trade association and lobbying arm.

Dow's Midland, Michigan facility, which produces chlorpyrifos (among other chemicals), houses over 2 million pounds of toxic chemicals and over 6 million pounds of flammable substances, and it released more than 300,000 pounds of chemicals into the environment in 2013, according to the Toxics Release Inventory. Dow was named a chemical industry bad actor in the Center for Effective Government's October 2015 report, Blowing Smoke, because of the high numbers of serious workplace health and safety and environmental violations at its inspected chemical manufacturing facilities.

Public interest advocates prevail in the face of chemical industry influence.

The proposed ban on chlorpyrifos in agriculture is an important victory for public and worker health.

"It's a step forward on the path to environmental justice," said Virginia Ruiz of Farmworker Justice. "Farmworkers and their families, who are predominantly poor and majority people of color, bear the brunt of poisonings from pesticides and pesticide drift."

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