California Bans Chlorpyrifos Pesticide

UPDATE: Citing the protection of workers, public health, and the environment, the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) announced May 8, 2019, that the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is acting to ban the use of the pesticide and toxic air contaminant—chlorpyrifos—in California by initiating cancellation of the pesticide.

CalEPA and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) also announced that the Governor will propose $5.7 million in new funding in the May Revision budget proposal to support the transition to safer, more sustainable alternatives, and plans to convene a working group to identify, evaluate and recommend alternative pest management solutions.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: A California Senate bill aiming to ban the use of a broad-spectrum pesticide passed the Health committee this month and will now be heard in the committee for Environmental Quality. The pesticide, chlorpyrifos, kills insects on contact by attacking their nervous systems. Unfortunately, it also has harmful effects on human neurodevelopment, which is why Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, proposed the bill.

Several epidemiological studies have linked prenatal exposure of chlorpyrifos to lower birth weights, lower IQs, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other developmental issues—including autism—in children. In fact, under a proposal put forth by the Obama Administration, the U.S. EPA was set to completely ban chlorpyrifos, but in 2017 the ban was halted by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt who claimed understanding of the neurodevelopmental effects remained unresolved. Not only did the EPA halt the ban, the agency is currently fighting a recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals order to take the pesticide off the market. These actions have confused many, including Aseem Prakash, the director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington.

"The EPA is contradicting the findings of its own scientists," said Prakash.

Despite the EPA’s choice to defend the use of chlorpyrifos, California is considering moving forward with a complete ban on the pesticide, which may have ripple effects on national use given the size of California’s agricultural industry. In the State Senate hearing this month, Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a UC Davis epidemiologist specializing in autism and a senior author of one of the studies, testified on behalf of the bill.

 “Now there are over three dozen studies that have demonstrated this link between prenatal exposure and overwhelmingly have shown the outcomes of lower IQ and the impairments of learning, as well as symptoms of autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit disorder,” she said.    

Retired Dow Chemical epidemiologist Carol Burns spoke in opposition to the bill, claiming the studies came before new regulations began restricting chlorpyrifos use in California about 20 years ago. She pointed out that two of the studies involved indoor applications and that chlorpyrifos is only allowed now in the use of agriculture and by certified applicators. Further, she explained the evaluation process for the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Agriculture manufacturers claim chlorpyrifos is their last defense against disease outbreak, such as Huanglongbing (HLB), a fatal citrus tree disease carried by the Asian citrus psyllid. The fear is well-founded, as the disease has been found in residential areas of Riverside County and Orange County. Since infected trees do not become symptomatic for several years, some California farmers fear time is running out before the disease begins to appear in local orchards. If that’s the case, the consequences could be dire for Ventura County’s agricultural industry, according to Emily Ayala, co-owner of Friend’s Ranches in Ojai. Ventura County farmers produce around $300 million in citrus annually.