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Goodbye chlorpyrifos on food

To protect children and farmworkers, US EPA rule ends use of the neurotoxic insecticide

by Britt E. Erickson
August 19, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 30


Oranges growing on a tree.
Credit: Shutterstock
US citrus growers must now use alternatives to chlorpyrifos to control ants.

After years of back-and-forth about the safety of the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos, the US Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow use of the neurotoxic pesticide on food crops, the agency says in a final rule released Aug. 18. The decision comes after an April 29 court ruling that directed the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos on food or set new residue levels that are safe for children.

Chemical structure of chlorpyrifos.

The EPA’s decision is a win for environmental groups, which have been pressuring the agency to ban chlorpyrifos on food since 2007. The EPA proposed to do so in 2015 and 2016 under former president Barack Obama, citing neurodevelopmental health risks to children. But the agency faced significant pushback from the pesticide industry and reversed its decision in March 2017 under then-president Donald J. Trump. Environmental groups represented by the law group Earthjustice challenged the reversal, leading to the April court order this year.

“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,” EPA administrator Michael Regan, says in a statement. “After the delays and denials of the prior administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first.”

Environmental groups welcome the EPA’s decision to end the use of chlorpyrifos on food, but they are urging the agency to eliminate all organophosphate pesticides on food.

“It took far too long, but children will no longer be eating food tainted with a pesticide that causes intellectual learning disabilities. Chlorpyrifos will finally be out of our fruits and vegetables,” Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, says in a statement. “But chlorpyrifos is just one of dozens of organophosphate pesticides in our fields that can harm children’s development. EPA must ban all organophosphates from food,” she says.

Environmental advocates are also pressuring the EPA to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos, not just on food. “President Biden’s EPA is finally reversing one of many horrific Trump administration actions that prioritized pesticide industry profits over our health and environment. But the EPA must now finish the job and follow sound science by banning all uses of chlorpyrifos,” Jason Davidson, senior food and agriculture campaigner with Friends of the Earth, says in a statement.

Sales of chlorpyrifos in the US have been steadily declining, as states such as California banned most uses of the chemical. The pesticide is also no longer sold in the European Union. Manufacturer Corteva Agriscience announced in early 2020 that it would stop making chlorpyrifos, citing low demand. Growers, however, have struggled to find alternatives to chlorpyrifos to control pests on a few food crops, including citrus, grapes, and sugar beets, as well as on cotton and alfalfa.

The EPA’s rule will go into effect 6 months after it is published in the coming weeks in the Federal Register.


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