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Gina Solomon’s Blog

Pesticides and Reproductive Harm: New Developments on Dursban

Gina Solomon

Posted November 19, 2008

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I took a friend who's visiting from Ireland to our local flea market this weekend. It's quite a cultural experience. She found some unique (and inexpensive) gifts to bring home. I trolled for my favorite stuff - toxic junk. Sure enough, for $3 I scored a battered and filthy metal sign reading "For use as a motor fuel only: Contains Lead (Tetraethyl)". What a find!  It's already in my office today, next to the old DDT sprayer with the label "Fly Ded".

At one end of the market, I stumbled on some cans of household insecticide. These weren't so old - less than 10 years of rust accumulation, so it was still possible to clearly read the ingredient: chlorpyrifos. Dursban TM. My old nemesis. It feels like just yesterday that I was fighting to get this chemical banned from household insecticides. And this week I'm going back into the fray once more.

In the 1990's, as study after study emerged showing that chlorpyrifos interferes with normal brain development in infants, the urgency to take action grew. Fortunately, in 2000, the EPA banned chlorpyrifos from household products. Studies since then have shown that the levels of this chemical in the bodies of urban pregnant women and children declined by five-fold from 2001-2004, showing that this kind of regulatory intervention really works.

Unfortunately, chlorpyrifos, one of the most toxic insecticides that's still on the market, is still in widespread use in agriculture. Farmworkers and communities are exposed to this stuff on a regular basis, and residues are still widespread on food. In fact, recent California data show that the use of this toxic chemical on food has increased in recent years to about 2 million lbs per year in California alone.

Tomorrow, a scientific panel in Sacramento will decide whether to list chlorpyrifos as a chemical that is "Known to the State of California to cause birth defects or reproductive harm". A decision to list the chemical would mean that discharges of this toxin into sources of drinking water would be forbidden. It would also mean that people would need to be warned if they are being exposed to the chemical. For example, this could mean warnings in many rural communities in California, or even warnings on foods, if the residues are high enough.

Chlorpyrifos shouldn't be allowed on the market anymore - it's too dangerous and there are plenty of safer alternatives. That's why NRDC and the Pesticide Action Network of North America petitioned EPA to ban this chemical altogether. The action taken by the California scientific panel tomorrow is far short of a ban, but it's one more step toward informing people about the serious risks from this brain-damaging chemical.

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