EPA to ban food use of toxic insecticide chlorpyrifos

August 18, 2021

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has essentially banned the use of chlorpyrifos, an insecticide used in row crops linked to brain damage in children.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide, one of many highly toxic insecticides used on food crops like soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower and other row crops.

Researchers have found that exposure to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy is linked to alterations in brain structure and cognition in children. Other studies have found links to the development of autism in children.

EPA administrator Michael Regan announced the agency repealed all maximum residue levels, or tolerances, and issued notices to cancel registered food uses of chlorpyrifos.

“Today 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,” Regan said. “After the delays and denials of the prior administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first.”

The effort to ban chlorpyrifos began during the Obama administration, but the order was denied by former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in 2017.

A group of labor and civil organizations sued to stop the chemical’s registration, arguing that the EPA ignored and misrepresented evidence of health risks and overly relied on data provided by companies that produced the chemical.

In 2018, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. The EPA appealed the decision and the agency was eventually allowed to continue permitting the insecticide’s use.

Environmental advocacy groups and several states challenged the EPA’s ban denial order and, in April, the court found that the EPA’s denial was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the agency to issue a final rule revoking the tolerances.

“Today, we celebrate this huge victory alongside the men and women who harvest our food, who have waited too long for a ban on this pesticide,” said Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, one of the groups involved in the suit that led to the decision. “We are relieved that farmworkers and their families will no longer have to worry about the myriad of ways this pesticide could impact their lives.”

Kristin Schafer, executive director at Pesticide Action Network, said, "Today the EPA has released a plan that aligns with what scientists have known for decades: chlorpyrifos is much too dangerous to be using, and its continued use has put children, farmworkers and rural communities at risk."

The EPA said it would continue its review of non-food uses of chlorpyrifos.

EPA to ban food use of toxic insecticide chlorpyrifos