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EPA bans all food uses for the pesticide chlorpyrifos

Trump administration reversed an earlier effort to ban the pesticide

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan testifies on June 9 before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. The agency is moving to block the pesticide chlorpyrifos used on food.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan testifies on June 9 before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. The agency is moving to block the pesticide chlorpyrifos used on food. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The EPA on Wednesday announced it will ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on all food in response to an appellate court ruling. The pesticide has been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in children, including low birth weight and delayed motor development.

Chlorpyrifos is typically used on crops such as strawberries, apples, broccoli, citrus and corn.

The EPA issued a final rule revoking all tolerances, which establish the amounts of the pesticide allowed on food, and said it will also issue a notice of intent to cancel all registered food uses under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

“Today EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health. Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide,” Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “After the delays and denials of the prior administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first.”

In April, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court ruled that the EPA must issue a final rule in response to a petition to revoke all food tolerances first filed in 2007 by the Pesticide Action Network North America and Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Obama administration proposed prohibiting the pesticide in 2015, but the Trump administration denied the petition in 2017 and in 2019 further denied all objections raised in response. The court found EPA’s “egregious delay exposed a generation of American children to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos.”

The EPA said in light of the decision it determined that current aggregate exposures from the use of chlorpyrifos do not meet the legally required standards “that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from such exposures.”

Environmental groups and those representing farmworkers, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Farm Workers and the League of United Latin American Citizens, were represented by Earthjustice in the lawsuit.

“It took far too long, but children will no longer be eating food tainted with a pesticide that causes intellectual learning disabilities. Chlorpyrifos will finally be out of our fruits and vegetables,” Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman said in a statement.

Goldman added that the EPA should move to ban the 11 other types of organophosphate pesticides that are approved over concerns that they may affect children in similar ways.

Chlorpyrifos is banned in Canada, the European Union and states such as California, Hawaii, New York, Maryland and Oregon. The primary manufacturer, Corteva Inc., said in February 2020 that it would discontinue the production of chlorpyrifos, although without EPA action it would have been able to stay on the market in generic forms.

The EPA said some alternatives have been registered in recent years and other products are available to target certain pests. The agency said it is also committed to reviewing replacements for the pesticide. The pesticide can remain in use for non-food uses, including on cotton.

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