Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic pesticide most commonly used in California’s Central Valley for crops like almonds, walnuts, oranges, grapes, and broccoli. It was banned for residential use in 2000 and in 2015, under President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a ban for use of the pesticide in agriculture. Trump’s administration has overturned that ban.
According to the EPA, chlorpyrifos is currently undergoing “registration review,” after rejecting a petition from the Pesticide Action Network of North America and Natural Resources Defense Council in March to expand regulatory action on use of the chemical. That rejection was one of the first official actions of EPA head Scott Pruitt, reports the New York Times. Pruitt has been widely criticized as someone who has essentially contested the work of the organization he now heads throughout his career. Dow Chemical, makers of chlorpyrifos, have long contested the science that suggests the pesticide is unhealthy, which is the side Pruitt came down on:
“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Mr. Pruitt said in his statement. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”
The Guardian interviewed families affected by chlorpyrifos, particularly in heavy use areas like California’s Tulare County. The region has one of the highest poverty rates in the state and one of the worst air pollution rates in the United States. The vast majority of families in the area are Latino, and statistics says that Latino children are 91% more likely than white children to attend schools in high pesticide use areas.
Many residents of Tulare County believe that chronic health issues are linked the heavy use of pesticides in the area:
They described children vomiting, suffering painful skin irritations, debilitating headaches and dizziness, as well as developing autism, learning problems, attention deficit disorders and respiratory ailments.
Lindsay, a small agricultural city in the county, was the subject of a research study on chlorpyrifos. In three quarters of the air samples taken in the area, the levels of the chemical deemed “acceptable” by the EPA for 24-hour exposure by children were 11% higher than they should be.
Activists in Lindsay have been pushing the state to take over the role the EPA has abandoned, and lower the use of chlorpyrifos. A spokesperson for the California department of pesticide regulation, Charlotte Fadipe, told The Guardian that the agency is looking at how the pesticide is used and if “further restrictions on its use are warranted,” but adds that this is “not the same as an all-out ban.”