BY IAN HENDERSON
California has moved to ban the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos, linking its use to the development of neurological problems in infants and children. Chlorpyrifos is used on a number of produce nationwide, including almonds, citrus, cotton, grapes and walnuts. This is seen as a move by the state to oppose the Trump Administration’s EPA on its loosening of environmental regulations.
The Obama-era EPA moved to ban chlorpyrifos back in 2015, in response to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network America. A federal judge gave the EPA until March 2017 to decide on whether to finalize the ban.
When then-EPA Director Scott Pruitt took office in February 2017, he was faced with a time crunch to act on the ban and opted to forgo doing so.
A California Air Resources Board scientific review panel recommended (pdf)to list the chemical as a toxic contaminant and for the California Director of Pesticide Regulation to regulate the substance last July.
After months of deliberation, the state acted on the recommendation, classifying chlorpyrifos as a toxic pollutant. The ban is expected to take full effect in six months to two years’ time. It is the third state to ban the substance after Hawaii did so last year, although that state’s ban won’t take effect until 2022. New York passed a ban in April which takes effect in 2021.
The Epoch Times spoke with UCI Professor of Atmospheric Integrated Research, Michael T. Kleinman, who was Chairman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Scientific Review Panel (SRP) until this April, to explain what led to the panel’s decision to recommend the state to list chlorpyrifos as a toxic air contaminant.
“We read through all the data and it indicated to us and the majority of scientists that we contacted that chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin and has a potential for affecting the developing nervous system. On that basis, we decided that chemical met the criteria for the state of California to be declared a toxic air contaminant,” Kleinman said.
As to the effects on the developing nervous system, Kleinman said that from animal toxicology studies on mice and rats, the chemical produced changes in their nervous system.
“Chlorpyrifos is a chemical that is in the same family as nerve gases like sarin. The chemical inhibits an important enzyme that controls in the developing brain pathways that lead to normal brain development. By interfering with those pathways in the developing brain, there is a mechanistic basis for finding that this chemical should not be one which young children should be exposed to.”
Kleinman also pointed out that there have been negative health effects documented as a result of the use of chlorpyrifos. “We did see statistics and reports of people in the workplace who would spray the compound. There have been a number of hospitalizations and illnesses associated with that.”
The effect on the agricultural industry is a major concern for many farmers who rely on the pesticide to grow their crops. Farmers say in particular it helps eliminates pests that threaten to decimate the state’s citrus industry.
In the state of New York, where the nation’s first ban will take effect in 2021, farmers have fought back, pressuring the state to delay the ban, saying that there isn’t an easy alternative on the market to tackle an aggressive beetle species.
“Anytime there is government action to ban pesticides like this, that are in common usage in farms, there’s always kind of a scramble to find a good replacement,” said Tim Dressel, manager at Dressel Farms in New Paltz, New York. “We’ve had to adapt many times in the past few years, and it always ends up being more complicated and costing more money.”
Pertaining to the effect on the agricultural sector, Professor Kleinman said that while he couldn’t name any alternative pesticide, the California EPA was working with the farming community on finding alternatives.
“They are looking for viable alternatives and will be providing assistance on this. Cal EPA was definitely cognizant of the fact that this is a widely used pesticide and that viable alternatives are going to be necessary.”
“We are disappointed in this proposal that would remove an important tool for farmers and undermines the highly effective system for regulating pesticides that has been in place at the federal level and in the state of California for decades.
“Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely studied crop protection products in the world and is currently registered in roughly 100 countries, including the U.S., all major U.S. trading partners and in the EU. This proposal disregards a robust database of more than 4,000 studies and reports examining the product in terms of health, safety and the environment. A predictable and transparent regulatory review process based on sound science is not only critical for maintaining grower access to existing tools, but is also a requirement for the kind of continued innovation that California’s regulators are encouraging.
We are evaluating all options to challenge this proposal.”
Retired UCLA researcher and epidemiologist James Enstrom also shared his skepticism about the ban.
“Most of these evaluations are made from tests on animals or unrealistic tests that can’t be reflected on a large scale,” Enstrom told The Epoch Times.
“The health claims are completely bogus. California has the second lowest total age adjusted death rate in the nation after Hawaii. California’s life expectancy is above the US average. The stats used to justify the ban are taken out of context and are justified using panels of professors.”
Enstrom expressed concern for the effect the ban will have on the agricultural sector. “This is going to hurt a lot of farmers who are trying to do an honest day’s work in a competitive global market.”
Going back to 2015, Professor Enstrom wrote a letter to the UC Academic Senate claiming that the actions of “activist professors” being appointed to the CARB Scientific Review Panel are adversely affecting the California economy.
In the letter, professor Enstrom stated, “The SRP is important because it has aggressively and unjustifiably classified hundreds of substances as “toxic air contaminants” in California. These classifications have resulted in costly CARB and Cal EPA regulations that have adversely impacted the California economy.”
A number of conflicting views pertaining to California’s decision to ban the highly used chlorpyrifos, ranging from experts in the field with differing viewpoints, have prompted the manufacturers of the pesticide to vow to take legal action and concerned farmers that rely on the pesticide. A protracted legal battle is expected to take place over the fate of the pesticide in California.