EPA Greenlights Chemical, Poisons California Workers Soon After

Why has the EPA suddenly started defending chlorpyrifos?

Wheat field near Bakersfield, California. Credit: John Chacon/California Department of Water Resources

Earlier this month, more than 50 agricultural workers from near Bakersfield, California were exposed to a highly toxic pesticide which drifted over from a neighboring farm. Soon after, twelve of the workers reported vomiting and nausea.

Kern County released an announcement encouraging anyone exposed to seek immediate medical attention. They suspect the chemical causing the toxicity is chlorpyrifos, the active ingredient in an insecticide mainly marketed by Dow Chemical, under Dow AgroSciences.

Chlorpyrifos has been raising concern for decades, but its toxicity was not considered high. It was originally registered for use in 1965. In 2016, the EPA revised their human risk assessment, concerned for chlorpyrifos leaving residue on crops and leaching into groundwater.

The National Pesticide Information Center reports inhalation of chlorpyrifos can lead to “tearing of the eyes, runny nose, increased saliva and sweat production, nausea, dizziness and headache”. In higher doses, those exposed suffer from “muscle twitching, weakness or tremors, lack of coordination, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and pupil constriction with blurred or darkened vision.”

Chlorpyrifos has also been found to be an endocrine disruptor. Other studies imply it interferes with child cognitive development. In a seven year study of pregnant women exposed to chlorpyrifos, children were shown to have higher incidences of autism and developmental delay.

Regardless, this March, environmentalists were outraged when the EPA surprisingly changed its perspective on chlorpyrifos. The decision to green light chlorpyrifos was made by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, when he publicly denied proposals to ban the chemical.

In justifying his decision, Pruitt declared, “We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment… 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.”

Since, Dow Chemical has been discovered to have financial ties with the Trump administration, having donated $1 million dollars to his inaugural committee. Monsanto also contributed $25,000 to the committee.

Unfortunately, known toxicity to humans usually take the backseat in favor of preserving high production and profit. Heavy use of agrochemicals has been linked to 200,000 deaths from toxicity worldwide every year. These chemicals are also extremely detrimental to the environment, and without remediation, can persist for decades.

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