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What is Chlorpyrifos, and Why Is It Being Banned?

May 14, 2021 • Our Blog • General Health
The dangers that the chemical chlorpyrifos presents to children have been known for many years, but no federal action has been taken — until now.  No one is going to be shocked to hear that pesticides can be harmful. We’ve known that for decades. Yet, for some reason, many dangerous pesticides continue to be regularly used in our food and environment. On April 29, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a hard deadline to determine whether the insecticide chlorpyrifos can remain on the market or must be banned. This deadline comes after more than a decade of delays on an EPA ruling on chlorpyrifos, despite concrete evidence that it poses serious health risks for both children and adults.  Though the EPA previously acknowledged the well-documented health risks associated with exposure to chlorpyrifos, the chemical hasn’t yet been prohibited. As a result, millions of pounds of chlorpyrifos are still applied to US food crops such as wheat, corn, strawberries, cherries, and asparagus every year. Now, as we count down the days until the EPA makes a concrete decision on chlorpyrifos, it’s a good time to take a step back and understand what exactly the health risks of the insecticide are.

What is Chlorpyrifos?

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide. It is currently registered for use on a range of food crops as well as on golf courses and for public health mosquito control (in cases of mosquito-borne diseases).  Despite long delays on banning the chemical at the federal level, there has been independent action to remove it. Most notably, Corteva Agriscience, which used to be the world’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, stopped producing the insecticide last year. Additionally, some state governments (including Hawaii, California, and New York) blocked the use of chlorpyrifos within their states. Unfortunately, that legislation only blocks the use of the chemical within the states’ borders — it can’t block the use on any food that comes into the state after being grown elsewhere. That’s why, even in states with independent bans, there has been a major call for federal action. 

Why Is Chlorpyrifos Being Banned?

Simply put, chlorpyrifos is being banned because studies have shown that it is accurately toxic. The threats associated with chlorpyrifos are incredibly serious. They include an increased risk of neurodevelopmental conditions such as learning disabilities, IQs that are up to 7 points lower than those of children with little or no chlorpyrifos exposure, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) following prenatal exposure. The insecticide is also linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and other health problems including dizziness, confusion, respiratory paralysis, and even death following exposure in children and adults.  These risks aren’t new. As early as the late 1980s, environmental groups were warning about the harm chlorpyrifos poses to children and urging the government to ban the insecticide. Even though it took some time for the threat to be taken seriously, the EPA did finally begin investigating the chemical during the 2000s and even conducted a risk assessment in 2016. That risk assessment concluded that dietary exposures to chlorpyrifos for children between the ages of 1-2 years old could be greater than 140 times the suggested safe levels.  Despite that, no movement was made in banning the pesticide until now. Thankfully, the new ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the hard deadline it created is putting serious pressure on the EPA to take action. Hopefully, the result will be a complete ban on chlorpyrifos. 

Keeping Kids Healthy

Navigating environmental risks is just one aspect of keeping your child healthy. As we wait for the EPA to officially ban chlorpyrifos, it’s important to continue taking steps to help your kid feel their best. Kids’ Health is a leading pediatric clinic serving the Beverly, Massachusetts area that takes a comprehensive approach to healthcare to help keep your kids feeling happy and healthy. Call us or reach out online to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment today!...