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Daily News Blog

17
May

Stop EPA’s Racist Policies that Disproportionately Harm Farmworker Children’s Brains: Ban Chlorpyrifos

(Beyond Pesticides, May 17, 2021) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has less than two months to decide whether to cancel or modify its registration of the brain-damaging organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos, following a decision from a federal appeals court. The ruling comes after more than a decade of delay from the federal agency tasked with protecting public health and the environment from the hazards of chemicals like chlorpyrifos. The decision now falls to the Biden Administration’s EPA Administrator Michael Regan, after the previous administration reversed a proposal to ban agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos in 2017. Most residential uses of the chemical were banned in 2000. 

Tell EPA to ban chlorpyrifos and other neurotoxic pesticides.

The target of action by which chlorpyrifos and many other pesticides kill is the nervous system. It is not surprising, then, that pesticides also target the nervous system in humans. They are particularly hazardous to children, who take in greater amounts of pesticides relative to their body weight than adults, and whose developing organ systems are typically more sensitive to toxic exposures.

The body of evidence in the scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine systems, even at low exposure levels. Several pesticide families, such as synthetic pyrethroids, organophosphates, and carbamates, are also known to cause or exacerbate respiratory symptoms like asthma. The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote, “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”

In deciding whether to ban chlorpyrifos, a dangerous, proven neurotoxicant that has dire impacts on children, EPA’s action to allow its continued use would be a failure of both its protective mission and ethics. Further, it would be an environmental justice failure, given that risks of exposure fall disproportionately on low-income African American and Latino families, including farmworker families, who are at the greatest risk of harm. The ban on chlorpyrifos will be an important first step in eliminating neurotoxic pesticides.

Chlorpyrifos is a poster child for the problems with federal pesticide regulation, but chlorpyrifos is just one of numerous organophosphate class chemicals remaining on the market. These WW2-era nerve agents are relics of the past, that have no place in 21st century agriculture and should have already been eliminated from use. And beyond the organophosphates lie a number of other insecticides that the chemical-intensive farming will utilize as toxic substitutes. This toxic treadmill, with the increased use of bee-toxic neonicotinoid and highly hazardous synthetic pyrethroids, becomes a Faustian bargain for farmers who rely on toxic chemicals that are harmful to health and the environment.

The court set a hard deadline on the agency, which the judges appeared to indicate was particularly lenient given the circumstances. EPA now has 60 days to either modify the food tolerances (allowed levels of the chemical on food) of chlorpyrifos and publish a finding that the new tolerances are safe for infants and children, or revoke all tolerances. The agency must also determine whether to modify or cancel registration of the chemical for food use under federal pesticide law.

For these reasons it is critical that the need to eliminate this particular chemical be seen as an indictment of chemical-intensive farming as a whole. It is not acceptable to repeatedly weigh the evils of one hazardous chemical or another when other systems exist that do not rely on these products. Organic farming eliminates highly toxic synthetic pesticides in favor of practices that enhance biodiversity, soil health, and climate resilience. Like the move away from fossil fuel dependent energy and toward renewable systems, organic practices will be the future of farming in the 21st century.

Tell EPA to ban chlorpyrifos and other neurotoxic pesticides.

Letter to EPA Administration Michael Regan

The federal appeals court has given EPA less than two months to decide whether to cancel or modify its registration of the brain-damaging organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos. The ruling comes after more than a decade of delay from the federal agency—yours—tasked with protecting public health and the environment from the hazards of pesticides. The decision now falls to you, as the Biden Administration’s EPA Administrator, after the previous administration reversed a proposal to ban agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos in 2017. Most residential uses of the chemical were banned in 2000.

Chlorpyrifos and many other pesticides kill by targeting the nervous system. It is not surprising, then, that pesticides also target the nervous system in humans. They are particularly hazardous to children, who take in greater amounts of pesticides relative to their body weight than adults, and whose developing organ systems are typically more sensitive to toxic exposures.

The body of evidence in the scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine systems, even at low exposure levels. Several pesticide families, such as synthetic pyrethroids, organophosphates, and carbamates, are also known to cause or exacerbate respiratory symptoms like asthma. The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote, “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”

In the upcoming decision, EPA’s action to allow its continued use of chlorpyrifos—a dangerous, proven neurotoxicant that has dire impacts on children—would be a failure of both its protective mission and ethics. Further, it would be an environmental justice failure, since risks of exposure fall disproportionately on low-income African American and Latino families, including farmworker families, who are at the greatest risk of harm. The ban on chlorpyrifos will be an important first step in eliminating neurotoxic pesticides.

Chlorpyrifos is a poster child for the problems with federal pesticide regulation, but chlorpyrifos is just one of numerous organophosphate chemicals remaining on the market. These WW2-era nerve agents have no place in 21st century agriculture and should have already been eliminated from use. Beyond the organophosphates lie a number of other insecticides that the chemical-intensive farming will utilize as toxic substitutes. This toxic treadmill, with the increased use of bee-toxic neonicotinoid and highly hazardous synthetic pyrethroids, becomes a Faustian bargain for farmers who rely on toxic chemicals that are harmful to health and the environment.

The court set a hard deadline for the agency, which the judges appeared to indicate was particularly lenient given the circumstances. EPA now has 60 days to either modify the food tolerances (allowed levels of the chemical on food) of chlorpyrifos and publish a finding that the new tolerances are safe for infants and children, or revoke all tolerances. The agency must also determine whether to modify or cancel registration of the chemical for food use under federal pesticide law.

For these reasons it is critical that the chlorpyrifos story be regarded by EPA as an indication of the failure of chemical-intensive farming as a whole. It is not acceptable to repeatedly weigh the evils of one hazardous chemical or another when other systems exist that do not rely on these products. Organic farming eliminates highly toxic synthetic pesticides in favor of practices that enhance biodiversity, soil health, and climate resilience. Like the move away from fossil fuel dependent energy and toward renewable systems, organic practices will be the future of farming in the 21st century. Please ensure that EPA reviews all pesticides in light of these larger considerations.

Thank you.

 

 

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