– As the federal government retreats from banning a pesticide increasingly connected to human health problems, particularly in children, the state of California took steps toward restricting its use in the Golden State.
Three California agencies, including the California Environmental Protection Agency, jointly announced this past week that they will take action to address potential public health threats posed by chlorpyrifos, including further scientific analysis of the pesticide and a potential listing of the chemical compound as a Proposition 65 carcinogen.
Meanwhile, a recent investigation by the New York Times revealed that President Donald Trump’s EPA chief Scott Pruitt assured farm industry leaders that his tenure represented “a new day and a new future” in a meeting in March.
Around the same time, Pruitt announced the agency would deny a decade-old petition to revoke the pesticide, saying it required further study.
“By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results,” Pruitt said at the time.
Several studies show that even low doses of chlorpyrifos can have adverse impacts on infants’ cognitive and emotional development. Large doses can cause acute toxicity in exposed individuals, and studies demonstrate that agricultural workers with frequent exposure to the pesticide have developed serious lung ailments, including a wheeze and cancer.
With that in mind, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has scientists that maintain chlorpyrifos may pose a public health risk as a toxic air contaminant, according to a statement issued by the three state agencies.
“While chlorpyrifos has been protecting crops for more than 50 years, new information in the scientific community leads us to believe the level of risk it poses is greater than previously known,” said CalEPA Secretary Matthew Rodriquez.
While the pesticide department is aware of the current register of scientific literature relating to the controversial chemical, it must go through a peer-review process, a public comment period and independent evaluation by scientists.
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is poised to take a separate but parallel process to determine the health hazards of chlorpyrifos. Their department, with a 10-scientist team that will conduct independent review of the literature, will also undergo a public comment period, with the first slated for Nov. 29 in Sacramento.
The pesticide department also plans to install interim regulations regarding chlorpyrifos, including restricting its use near homes and schools along with tighter restrictions on how the chemical is applied.
California has positioned itself as a reliable foil to the federal government since Trump was elected and subsequently dismantled some of the environmental regulations installed by his predecessor Barack Obama.
In March, the state’s clean air agency voted to move forward with stricter emissions standards for cars and trucks, moving in the opposite direction of the Trump administration which has said such regulations have hampered U.S. automakers.
Trump has been criticized for being too cozy with the agrochemical industry in regard to the chlorpyrifos reversal.
The chemical is manufactured by Dow, whose CEO Andrew Liveris has praised Trump, contributed to his campaign and agreed to serve as the head of the recently disbanded manufacturing council.