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What's all the 'chlorpyri-fuss' about? We filed a lawsuit to ban it!

Jennifer Sass

Posted July 22, 2010

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Today NRDC filed a lawsuit against EPA for 'unreasonable delay and failing to act' on our 2007 petition to cancel one of the most hazardous pesticides on the market, chlorpyrifos. Yay NRDC, and our partners in this lawsuit, Pesticide Action Network North America, and Earthjustice.

How bad is chlorpyrifos? So bad that EPA cancelled all residential uses in 2001, except contained ant and roach baits, to prevent hazardous exposures to children. It causes headaches, nausea, muscle spasms, and can cause seizures and even death at high doses. Even low doses that occurred in people's homes (before the residential ban) from using chlorpyrifos to treat pest problems were enough to be associated with measurable cognitive deficits and developmental delays in children exposed during early fetal and infant development (Rauh et al, Pediatrics, 2006; Lovasi et al, AJPH, 2010).

In 2002 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 82% of randomly sampled Americans had chlorpyrifos metabolites in their urine, indicating regular exposure (NHANES III, Series 11, No 4A, Sept 2000).

But, EPA didn't cancel chlorpyrifos uses on many foods and agriculture products. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture reported in 2007 that chlorpyrifos residues were found on 18% of peaches tested, 15.8% of nectarines, 6.8% of brocolli, 46% of almonds, and 30% of corn grain (USDA Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary, Calendar year 2007).

Continued agriculture use of chlorpyrifos is harmful for farmworkers that work with treated crops, children of farmworkers that live near treated fields, and consumers that eat the tainted foods. When it was banned for home uses, a measurable decrease in poisonings was documented (Stone et al, Environ Health 2009). Why not stop poisoning people through agriculture uses too?

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Steve SavageJul 26 2010 12:20 AM

I'd be interested in your take on the following bits of information about chlorpyrifos:

The toxicity (acute) of this chemical is almost identical to that of ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) that people ingest regularly in 200mg doses

This, admittedly old-school chemical, is less toxic than some of the copper-based fungicides approved for Organic

The use of Chlorpyrifos in California (where there is public data and the most use) is down 60% from the peak in the 90s.

The largest single use of Chlorpyrifos in CA (38%) is on tree nuts for the control of Navel Orange Worm. This is to protect consumers from the aflatoxin contamination that is vectored by that pest. Aflatoxin is one of the most toxic and carcinogenic substances known and causes deaths of millions of people in the developing world each year. Do you really want to ban the use of this tool, which along with others, is important for protecting us from this extreme threat? What is your suggested alternative?

Jenn SassJul 27 2010 07:45 AM

Dear Mr. Savage,
Thank you for your comments. Chlorpyrifos is not ibuprofen. It is a hazardous pesticide contaminant on food that kids eat, and on or near farms where kids live, play, and learn. The reasons we are asking for it to be banned are detailed in our lawsuit, accessible with the link above in my blog. All our points about health hazards cite scientific articles published in the peer reviewed literature and publicly accessible.

I'm sure we both agree thon the importance of providing growers and urban-dwellers with non-hazardous or reduced-risk methods that are affordable and effective at combating pests.

The FY2011 budget has zeroed the funds for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Centers that provide growers and others with this much-needed information. Can we work together to try to get that budget re-instated?

Again, thank you for your comments above.

Steve SavageJul 27 2010 05:58 PM

Actually, I read the lawsuit. I did not include data or links to papers. Are those in an appendix or something?

I didn't say chlorpyrifos was ibuprofen, I said it has the same Rat Oral ALD50 which is the measure of acute toxicity.

Is the NRDC working on restored funding for IPM? All I see are a string of lawsuits like the new one this week about Colony Collapse Disorder. That is a serious and complex issue - but I doubt that litigation is the most constructive thing that NRDC could do.

Jen SassJul 28 2010 11:08 AM

Dear Steve,
Yes, I am definitely working to restore federal funding for the IPM Centers, and would be very glad to work together with you on that.
We may disagree on whether or not litigation is constructive, but I can assure you we do not litigate unless administrative and other options are first tried.
I'm sorry to have mis-directed you regarding the evidence to back our claims of the hazards of chlorpyrifos. The references to relevant literature on the documented health impacts of chlorpyrifos exposure are as hotlinks in my blog above.


Steve SavageJul 28 2010 07:10 PM


When you talk about residues being found on various commodities, it would be helpful to mention that most of the detections were well below the EPA tolerance. In the 2008 report, there was only one commodity where and of the detections were over the tolerance and in that case by 10%.

There seems to be some discrepancy between various sources on the acute toxicity.

I won't bug you any more about this. I just wanted to make the point that this isn't a slam dunk question

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