Chloryrifos is Dangerous, but Hasn’t Been Banned
Washington’s Department of Agriculture is currently investigating cases of illness reported as a result of exposure to a pesticide chemical called chlorpyrifos. Chloryrifos has been the subject of heated debates as of late regarding whether or not the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) should ban it. In March 2017, Scott Pruitt decided not to (against his own scientists’ advice).
In 2016 alone, Washington farmers used more than 200,000 pounds of chlorpyrifos on their orchards and vineyards, and most Christmas tree farmers also use the hazardous chemical. When chlorpyrifos drifts onto farm workers and their neighbors, it can cause unwelcome symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, a scratchy throat, difficulty breathing, stomach aches, and even neurological issues. Chloryrifos is particularly hazardous for infants and young children because it can have lasting neurological effects on the body. Parents who work in orchards can transport the chemical home, it can be eaten on unwashed fruit, and chlorpyrifos can make its way into developing fetuses through umbilical cord blood.
Studies have shown that children with chlorpyrifos in their blood at birth and in early childhood scored lower on memory, verbal comprehension, and reasoning exams. They also had lower IQs overall and higher rates of ADHD and impulsive behavior. Chlorpyrifos was phased out of household use by the EPA in 2000.
Over the past five years, numerous complaints have been filed against growers in Washington and Oregon for chlorpyrifos use. Joanne Bonnar Prado, an epidemiologist with the Washington Department of Health, said many more cases likely go unreported because of language barriers and a general lack of information regarding a connection between exposure to the chemical and the symptoms experienced. Farmers have traditionally argued that chlorpyrifos is a useful, inexpensive pesticide. Christmas tree growers use chlorpyrifos to kill aphids and other pests that damage their stock. There are alternatives to chlorpyrifos, but they’re more expensive.
“When I first started here many years ago, there were lots of new pesticides in the pipeline,” Betsy Beers, an entomologist at Washington State University who studies pest management, remembered. “Today, that pipeline has really slowed to a trickle. We can’t count on there being an effective replacement coming anytime soon.”
Prado, the Washington Department of Health epidemiologist, said, if it were up to her, chlorpyrifos would be taken off the market. She said, “If you have to choose one chemical, one single chemical that’s out there in use, chlorpyrifos would be the top of my list.”
Richard Fenske, a University of Washington professor who has studied chlorpyrifos use, said. “It’s good for farmers because it helps prevent pests and, therefore, they have a bigger crop and a better financial return. It also may be good for consumers, because there are a greater abundance of high-quality fruits and vegetables, and that may lower the price or at least make them available to us.”
“But,” he added, “the only people who are taking the risk are the people who are spraying [chloryrifos], the people who are working nearby who might get drifted on, and the people who live in those communities where there is a high use of these chemicals, and then the families of the workers.”