The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced it would not ban a pesticide known as chlorpyrifos, a compound linked to a variety of health issues, including serious developmental issues in children. This news comes after two bills in the Oregon legislature designed to ban this pesticide within the state both failed.
Chlorpyrifos has been banned for indoor use since 2000 after clear links were shown between low birth weights and decreased IQs in children raised in apartment buildings where the pesticide was present. For adults, higher doses are also poisonous.
The EPA was close to banning its use in agricultural applications in 2016. However, soon after taking office, the Trump administration began to reverse course, going against the recommendations of the EPA’s own scientists.
Reports in Oregon from late 2018 claim that since the ban’s reversal, at least 18 reports of “pollution, unsafe exposure of humans and animals and contamination of nearby crops,” were made in Oregon and Washington alone. Oregon farm workers supporting a ban say that chlorpyrifos is one of the most frequently cited causes of pesticide poisoning.
They argue pesticides often drift outside of the area in which they’re applied and can expose people without protective equipment and leech into the environment. Past claims include chlorpyrifos drifting from a Christmas tree farm onto a neighboring chicken coop, causing the animals to fall ill, Oregon workers unplugging a clog in a culvert and releasing pesticide-laden mist, and crayfish die-offs after chlorpyrifos ran into a creek in Hermiston.
In Oregon, this pesticide is still used on leafy greens, alfalfa, grass fields and is heavily used by Christmas tree farms. In Washington, it is also still sprayed on the state’s famous apple farms. Julie Madison-Jamil is an Oregon City resident who spoke with reporters last year about the effects of nearby pesticide spraying that occurs.
“You can taste it. You can smell it,” she said
In Oregon, bills to ban chlorpyrifos were supported by environmental activists and farm workers’ organizations, but they were met with even stronger pushback from the farming industry and pro-pesticide lobbying groups like Oregonians for Food and Shelter. They claimed there were no other effective alternative pesticides, particularly for Christmas tree farmers and others whose crops are prone to pest infestations.
Some legislators in Oregon believed the Trump administration would actually follow through on banning the compound, lowering pressure on themselves to push for a statewide ban. However, by the end of this spring’s turbulent legislative session, neither bill even made it out of committee. One of their sponsors, state Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), said he intends to try again in 2021.
Chlorpyrifos was developed by Dow Chemical in 1965. The company still claims the compound is perfectly safe, and questions the science behind any reports of environmental or health effects.
By Ian MacRonald