This week U.S. EPA was sued for failing to take long-overdue action on the highly hazardous pesticide chlorpyrifos (PDF). Natural Resources Defense Council, Pesticide Action Network and Earthjustice filed a legal petition in 2007, asking the agency to ban all uses of the chemical. Three years later, EPA has done nothing in response, so the groups have sued for inaction. Banned in 2001 for residential use because of the severe hazards it poses to children, chlorpyrifos was originally developed for WW2-era chemical warfare. Exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause chest tightness, blurred vision, headaches, coughing and wheezing, weakness, nausea and vomiting, coma, seizures, and even death. Studies have linked prenatal and early childhood exposure, even at very low doses, with low birth weights and developmental delays. An estimated 8-10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are used each year on oranges, almonds, corn, and other crops and exposure is still widespread in rural areas. California Air Resources Board monitoring found chlorpyrifos in 1/3 of all ambient air samples in the San Joaquin Valley.
In 2007, the EPA found chlorpyrifos residue (PDF) on a significant amount of foods that it tested: 46% of almonds, 18% of peaches, 15.8% of nectarines, and 30% of corn grain. PAN’s WhatsOnMyFood.org lists many more instances from USDA testing. This week’s lawsuit aims to force EPA to make a decision on the ban. “Continued agriculture use of chlorpyrifos is harmful for farmworkers that work with treated crops, children of farmworkers that live near treated fields, and consumers that eat the tainted foods,” says Jen Sass of NRDC. “When it was banned for home uses, a measurable decrease in poisonings was documented. Why not stop poisoning people through agriculture uses too?” “Chlorpyrifos is among a class of pesticides that targets developing nervous systems and are linked to a host of devastating diseases ranging from ADHD to childhood brain cancer,” says PAN senior scientist Dr. Margaret Reeves. “Their human health costs are just too high. There’s no defensible reason for continuing to use chlorpyrifos.”