EPA finally bans common food pesticide after years of court battles
After years of lengthy court battles the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will ban agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide suspected of causing neurodevelopmental problems in children. The ban comes into effect in six months, with a further review of non-food uses to follow.
Chlorpyrifos was first approved for use in the United States in the mid 1960s. It was used as a pesticide to kill a variety of insects and over the late 20th century was deployed in a broad assortment of settings, from residential homes to control pests such as cockroaches to commercial agriculture.
By the late 1990s a growing body of scientific evidence was indicating the chemical posed significant health risks to children. Alongside animal experiments demonstrating toxicity, a number of epidemiological studies showed exposure to chlorpyrifos either during gestation or early childhood was linked with low birthweight and neurodevelopmental impairment.
In 2001 the EPA responded to this emerging evidence by banning all residential uses of chlorpyrifos. However, commercial agricultural use continued, leading a number of activist groups to file a petition in 2007 demanding a broad ban of the chemical.
Following years of reviews and court battles a US court of appeals ordered the EPA to respond to the petition in 2015. The EPA initially proposed a complete ban of chlorpyrifos but a change of administration in 2016 led to a reversal of this decision.
Again, years of court battles culminated in a top US court of appeals pushing back on the EPA. Finally, early in 2021, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit deemed the EPA’s prior refusal to implement the ban “arbitrary and capricious.” The EPA was ordered to respond to the 2007 petition by August 20, either banning the pesticide on food crops or demonstrating evidence it is safe for children.
This brings us to today’s announcement by the EPA, finally banning all food agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos. This move arrives 14 years after the initial legal action from activist groups pushing for the prohibition.
“Today EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health,” says EPA administrator Michael Regan in a statement. “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. After the delays and denials of the prior administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first.”
Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, says this announcement should bring relief to rural communities all over the country.
“Today, we celebrate this huge victory alongside the men and women who harvest our food, who have waited too long for a ban on this pesticide,” says Romero. “We are relieved that farmworkers and their families will no longer have to worry about the myriad of ways this pesticide could impact their lives.”
The new EPA ruling gives a six-month window for all food uses of chlorpyrifos to cease. A further review of non-food uses for chlorpyrifos will take place later in 2022.