Earlier this year, EPA denied all objections to and hearing requests for a rule that terminates the use of the chlorpyrifos pesticide on food crops. As a result of the new rule, producers may no longer apply any chlorpyrifos to food or feed products, although there is an exemption for farmers to use the pesticide on certain exported food products.
Following its registration in 1965, farmers have used chlorpyrifos as an insecticide on food crops such as soybeans, corn, fruit and nut trees, and vegetables. It has also been used for agricultural purposes such as cattle ear tags, poultry houses, turkey, swine, and dairy barns.
There is significant potential for the pesticide to cause neurological effects, particularly in pregnant women and children. Children who are exposed to chlorpyrifos may experience lifelong intellectual disabilities and lowered IQ levels. Farmworkers who use the pesticide or work in fields where the pesticide has been used are also at increased risk of adverse health effects from exposure with including effects on the nervous system such as headaches, blurred vision, muscle weakness, and seizures. The chemical has been the focus of environmental advocacy groups because of its toxicity to wildlife, particularly birds, fish, aquatic vertebrates, and bees. For example, these groups argue that the chemical impacts the health and existence of nearly 1,400 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2000, the EPA banned chlorpyrifos for residential indoor use but continued allowing the use of these chemicals on food products. In 2014 and 2016, the EPA published data confirming that all toddlers were being exposed to chlorpyrifos at levels 140 times greater than the Agency had determined was safe. However, the Agency did not take actions to limit chlorpyrifos pesticide use at that time. In 2017, the EPA again failed to take action to ban chlorpyrifos. The Agency decision argued that additional scientific evidence was needed. Meanwhile, beginning in 2019, some states banned or restricted the use of chlorpyrifos, including California, Maryland, New York, and Hawaii. In recent years, many toxic torts lawsuits have been filed against chlorpyrifos manufacturers and distributors. Many of these cases are still ongoing.
The EPA’s current final rule banning chlorpyrifos in food was issued in response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ order directing the EPA to issue a final rule after the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network North America filed a petition with the Court. These organizations had previously petitioned the Agency for a ban, which was denied under the Trump administration in 2017 and again in 2019, leading to its Ninth Circuit challenge. EPA administrator Michael S. Regan addressed the delay in EPA’s action against the chemical, stating, “[t]oday EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health. 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.”