Chlorpyrifos pesticide banned in the US as too hazardous for human health

The United States follow the European Union’s example in banning the chlorpyrifos pesticide, a hazardous chemical for the development of children.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it is banning chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that until recently had been used on many fruit and vegetable crops. The product, also known as CPS, has been found to be hazardous for human health: scientific studies have shown that prenatal exposure to the pesticide is connected to a greater incidence of developmental problems in children, reduced IQ, and smaller infant birth weight.

It was the Obama administration that launched the process to terminate all uses of the pesticide in 2015. In 2020, however, Republican president Donald Trump ignored the EPA’s recommendations and extended the licence to use chlorpyrifos, which had already been banned in the European Union. Now, under Democrat Joe Biden‘s presidency, the US government has decided that enough is enough.

What is chlorpyrifos?

Chlorpyrifos is a cheap pesticide that has been on the market since 1965. The most widely-used products that contain it are sold under the Hatchet, Eraser, and Govern brands. According to the most recent available EPA data, in the years between 2014 and 2018, approximately 2.2 million litres of chlorpyrifos were used on a wide range of crops, including many vegetables, maize, soy, cotton, and fruit and nut trees. Residues of this product are often found in citrus fruits.

The new regulation, which will take effect in six months, follows a ruling issued by a US federal appellate court in April, which ordered the EPA to stop agricultural use of the chemical unless its safety can be proven. “Today EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health,” said the Agency’s Administrator, Michael S. 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”.

chlorpyrifos, pesticide
Chlorpyrifos residues are often found in citrus fruits © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

As happened with glyphosate, another herbicide that is harmful to human health and has faced a series of bans across the world in recent years, the ruling on chlorpyrifos is likely to lead to criticism and protests from the chemical industry and agricultural lobbies. These are the same groups that had worked closely with the Trump administration to keep the product on the market. Use of chlorpyrifos will still be permitted for non-food applications, such as on golf courses and lawns, as well as in cockroach lures and ant-repellent treatments.

The European Union banned chlorpyrifos in 2019

Up to the year 2000, chlorpyrifos was also used in households to control parasites, but indoor use was banned in the US back in 1996. This decision was made specifically to protect children’s health. “Pesticides like chlorpyrifos haunt farm workers, especially parents and pregnant women,” stated Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns for United Farm Workers of America, one of the groups involved in the petition to ban the chemical. “They don’t hug their kids until they change clothes, they wash their laundry separately. When they miscarry, or when their children have birth defects or learning disabilities, they wonder if their work exposures harmed their children”.

In 2019, the European Union voted to ban chlorpyrifos because of its effects on neurological development. The following year, the US states of California, New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and Maryland put an end to the use of the pesticide within their borders. On the day that the sale of the pesticide ended in California, Corteva Agrosciences – the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos – announced that it would stop producing the chemical. Now, the ban will affect the entire United States, and another hazardous chemical will finally become a thing of the past.

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