Environmental Groups Sue EPA Over Insecticide


photo: USDA

This past Thursday, the NRDC and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to try to force the agency to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate, has been prohibited for residential application since 2001 but is still often used in agriculture. Inhaling the chemical can cause nervous-system reactions such as blurred vision, dizziness and weakness. The groups petitioned the EPA to ban the insecticide three years ago and are suing the EPA for "unreasonably delayed" work on an anti-chlorpyrifos petition, which was opened for public comment in 2007, but never resulted in a final ruling.The EPA moved earlier this year to limit chlorpyrifos use in Pacific Northwest states after the NMFS decided it could threaten endangered salmon species. PANNA and NRDC argue that chlorpyrifos' continued agricultural use exposes farmworkers, consumers, and bystanders to harm from the highly toxic pesticide. A number of other countries have already outlawed use of chlorpyrifos, including South Africa in May.

Pesticide manufacturers and some farmers dispute that there is a human health risk from chlorpyrifos, if the product is used safely, saying that there are no good alternatives. NRDC and PANNA argue that the pesticide causes asthma and developmental problems such as ADHD. When chlorpyrifos was banned for household use nine years ago by the EPA, health effects on children were cited including delayed mental and motor skill development. Chlorpyrifos is still widely used as an insecticide on corn, grapes, oranges, almonds, and other crops, as well as on golf courses and for pest control in urban areas. According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the pesticide is still in use in all of the nine Bay Area counties. It is most widely used in the Central Valley and is polluting 29 of the state's waterways, mostly in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, according to state records. Environmental groups say it can cling to sprayed crops, but is also capable of vaporizing and being carried airborne.

Residents who live nearby crops sprayed with Chlorpyrifos have reported suffering numerous negative health effects. In one instance, Luis Medellin had five times more Chlorpyrifos in his body than the national average. Symptoms of over exposure to Chlorpyrifos are reported to include headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

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