The pesticide chlorpyrifos would be banned in Washington except for use on three crops under a bill introduced Jan. 20 in the state Senate.
Mint, onion and sweet corn growers would be able to use the chemical. Other farmers could apply for an exemption, too, but they would have to alert neighbors prior to spraying and warn that exposure to chlorpyrifos could harm young and unborn children.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the Environmental Protection Agency has punted on deciding whether to ban chlorpyrifos nationwide. “It just appears to be a chemical we should be weaning ourselves off of,” she said.
The EPA concluded in 2016 that the current registered uses of chlorpyrifos pose dietary and drinking water risks and says it will complete a review of those uses by October 2022.
California, Hawaii and New York have moved to phase out chlorpyrifos in those states before then. Washington, Oregon, California are among the eight states seeking to force an immediate national ban by suing the EPA in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Farm groups and the USDA defend chlorpyrifos as essential for crop protection and safe if properly applied.
Washington Friends of Farms and Forests executive director Heather Hansen said the state should wait for the EPA to finish its review. “The entire bill is an end-run around the existing process,” she said.
A ban could hurt even growers who rarely spray chlorpyrifos, but use it to supplement or back up other chemicals, she said. “You take a tool out of the toolbox, you make it much more difficult to protect crops,” she said.
The EPA has been considering a ban for several years. In comments submitted to the federal agency, the Washington State Department of Agriculture asked that any ban exempt mint, onions and sweet corn because those crops lack alternative pesticides.
For other crops, Rolfes’ legislation would ban products that have chlorpyrifos as its active ingredient beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Until Dec. 31, 2025, growers could seek permission from the state Department of Health to use chlorpyrifos, but with limits.
The chemical couldn’t be applied from the air or in winds above 3 mph. Nearby residents would have to be told 48 hours in advance and given a health warning.
The restrictions would remain in place unless the Washington Departments of Health and Ecology concluded the chemicals’ use was not a health risk.
Washington Tree Fruit Association President Jon DeVaney said that orchards typically use chlorpyrifos once a year while the trees are dormant.
A ban would not take into account how the chemical is used and whether every use poses a health risk, he said.
“These are very complicated, scientific questions that don’t lend themselves to a broad-brush, all-or-nothing approach,” DeVaney said.
Ashley Chesser, communications director of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, said the organization can support the bill, even with the exemptions and phase-in period.
“Ideally, we would end use completely, but we’re also sympathetic to growers who have been using it,” she said.
A bill to ban chlorpyrifos didn’t pass the Oregon Legislature last year. Chesser said she anticipates the proposal coming up again this year.