The restricted pesticide chlorpyrifos has been banned in California, the state Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) declared on Wednesday, a ban that is to take total effect within two years. Chlorpyrifos was found to inhibit an enzyme critical for neurological functions and human development more severely than previously thought, according to an August 2018 report by California’s independent Scientific Review Panel on Toxic Air Contaminants. The insecticide was prohibited from residential use in 2001 but is used to kill bugs that affect crops like soybeans, broccoli, and other feed and food crops, and pests like mosquitoes, termites, cockroaches, and ants.
The ban was initiated by the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), which is required “to develop control measures to protect the health of farm workers and others living and working near where the pesticide is used.” CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld called the action “a historic opportunity for California to develop a new framework for alternative pest management practices.” Governor Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget contains $5.7 million for further research “to support healthy communities and a thriving agricultural sector.”
California is both the most populous state in the country and earns the highest amount of agricultural revenue. When pesticides are used, one of the risks is their unintended spread. In Santa Barbara County, only a fraction is used compared to other counties. In 2016, 354 pounds of chlorpyrifos was used, compared to about 203,000 pounds in Tulare county, for example.
Neurological impairment from the pesticide isn’t only found in humans. A study conducted in New Zealand found that honeybees experienced slowed learning and reduced specificity of memory recall; the study bees were fed chlorpyrifos in amounts lower than was detected in bees exposed to the insecticide. In fact, the pesticide proposes a severe risk to 97 percent of the most threatened flora and fauna in the U.S., according to an EPA Assessment.
Dozens of products containing chlorpyrifos are now in the process of canceling product registrations. Though this could take up to two years to fully achieve, the buffer adheres to state law entitling manufacturers to a hearing. During the cancellation process, state pesticide regulators support more aggressive enforcement by county agricultural commissions and recommendations that include banning aerial applications of the compound, restricting application to crops with few alternatives, and requiring substantial buffer zones when applied.