Soapbox

Why California must step in for EPA on pesticides

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., in February.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., in February. Associated Press

More than a million pounds of Dow’s brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos are dumped on California crops every year, accounting for a fifth of all U.S. use.

So when Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt announced this spring he was stopping plans to ban the dangerous pesticide, he knew he was laying a disproportionate share of well-documented health risks squarely on Californians, especially farm workers and their children.

California has quickly pushed back, joining six other states to file legal objections to EPA’s approval of this pesticide on fruits and vegetables. But lawsuits can take years.

What about the damage being done right now? What about those who have to head into the fields and orchards doused with this pesticide that slows brain development and causes permanent drops in memory capacity in children?

That’s why on Wednesday we’ll be joining hundreds of Californians to march and tell Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation that they must quickly step up and do Pruitt’s job.

Chlorpyrifos has been prohibited for indoor use for more than 15 years. In reversing the outdoor ban, Pruitt ignored years of independent, peer-reviewed research that led EPA scientists to conclude that farm workers and people living near farms were being put at unacceptable risk.

The scope of those risks is alarming. A recent study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested had detectable levels of chlorpyrifos. The EPA found that chlorpyrifos residue on food can be up to 140 times the agency’s acceptable “level of concern.”

There is no question that California must eliminate these risks by banning chlorpyrifos.

Sarah Aird is co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform and can be contacted at sarah@pesticidereform.org. Jonathan Evans is legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program and can be contacted at jevans@biologicaldiversity.org.

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