Chemicals, Regulatory Developments

EPA Bans Chlorpyrifos Use on Food Crops

On August 18, 2021, the EPA announced it issued a final rule to stop the use of chlorpyrifos pesticide on all food crops in response to an order from the 9th Circuit.

EPA chlorpyrifos

The final rule revokes “all ‘tolerances’ for chlorpyrifos, which establish an amount of a pesticide that is allowed on food. In addition, the agency will issue a Notice of Intent to Cancel under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to cancel registered food uses of chlorpyrifos associated with the revoked tolerances,” according to the EPA press release.

“Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide used for a large variety of agricultural uses, including soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower, and other row crops, as well as non-food uses,” according to the EPA. “It has been found to inhibit an enzyme, which leads to neurotoxicity, and has also been associated with potential neurological effects in children.”

The 9th Circuit ruling was in response to a 2007 lawsuit filed by Pesticide Action Network North America and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The petition requested that EPA revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances, or the maximum allowed residue levels in food, because those tolerances were not safe, in part due to the potential for neurodevelopmental effects in children,” the EPA says.

“In short, the EPA has spent more than a decade assembling a record of chlorpyrifos’s ill effects and has repeatedly determined, based on that record, that it cannot conclude, to the statutorily required standard of reasonable certainty, that the present tolerances are causing no harm,” the court wrote in its 2–1 decision. “Yet, rather than ban the pesticide or reduce the tolerances to levels that the EPA can find are reasonably certain to cause no harm, the EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties. The [Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)] permits no further delay.… [T]he Court grants the petitions for review and orders the EPA within 60 days after the issuance of the mandate either to modify chlorpyrifos tolerances and concomitantly publish a finding that the modified tolerances are safe, including for infants and children – or to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances. The Court also orders the EPA to correspondingly modify or cancel related FIFRA registrations for food use in a timely fashion consistent with the requirements of 21 U.S.C. § 346a(a)(1).”

In addition to its application as a pesticide on fruit and vegetable crops, chlorpyrifos was commonly used in households to protect homes from roaches, mosquitoes, and ants until 2000, according to NPR.

“It took far too long, but children will no longer be eating food tainted with a pesticide that causes intellectual learning disabilities. Chlorpyrifos will finally be out of our fruits and vegetables,” said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman in a press release.

For more information on Earthjustice’s research into widespread exposure to chlorpyrifos, see its report “Poisoned Foods, Poisoned Brains.”

“[The] EPA has determined that the current aggregate exposures from use of chlorpyrifos do not meet the legally required safety standard that there is a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from such exposures,” according to the EPA. “A number of other countries, including the European Union and Canada, and some states including California, Hawaii, New York, Maryland, and Oregon have taken similar action to restrict the use of this pesticide on food.

“While farmers have historically relied on chlorpyrifos, its use has been in decline due to restrictions at the state level and reduced production. Additionally, some alternatives have been registered in recent years for most crops. There are also other chemistries and insect growth regulators available for certain target pests. EPA is committed to reviewing replacements and alternatives to chlorpyrifos.”