The long road to eliminate the pesticide chlorpyrifos from agricultural foods had its final win this August when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined no safe level of exposure existed. Chlorpyrifos is known to impair brain development in children and vulnerable populations. Among the insects the pesticide kills are honeybees and other pollinators; in the case of bees, small doses were found to impair memories of smell and location in a study conducted in New Zealand.
Use of the chemical had been reined in by the EPA since 2000 to protect children’s health, but the agency refused to revoke its use when drinking-water pollution issues were raised by environmental groups. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling determined the EPA had been capricious in ignoring the facts on record, forcing the agency to comply.
The pesticide was banned in California at the end of 2020, and state Attorney General Rob Bonta stated the new nationwide ban prevented it from crossing borders on vegetables and fruits from other states. “For far too long, this toxic pesticide has been applied to our fruits and vegetables, endangering the health and safety of farmworkers, their families, and everyday consumers,” Bonta said in a press release applauding the new EPA rule.
In use since 1965, chlorpyrifos had been used on crops such as soybeans, broccoli, citrus, grapes, and alfalfa. In Santa Barbara County, it was applied in the hundreds of pounds in the previous decade, dwindling to tens of pounds as the ban neared. It was eliminated from residential uses in 2001.