California tightens rules on popular pesticide for farmers

August 19, 2017 by Scott Smith

California is tightening the strictest rules in the nation on a pesticide that is popular with farmers over new health concerns, officials said Friday.

Farmers use chlorpyrifos (klor-PHIR-e-fos) to kill pests that attack a wide variety of crops like grapes, almonds and cotton grown in California, the nation's agricultural leader, as well as across the country.

State officials are taking steps to put it on a list of chemicals known to be harmful to humans and to also increase the distance from schools and homes in which farmers can apply.

The moves run contrary to a decision by Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to end his agency's effort to ban the pesticide sold by Dow Chemical after federal scientists concluded it can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants.

Pruitt told Congress in June his decision was based on "meaningful data and meaningful science." Pruitt's staff has thus far declined to provide details of what information Pruitt reviewed before making his decision.

California officials say that researchers are learning more about how the pesticide harms the developing brains of unborn babies and young children. Farmers apply it to 60 different crops, and it is most heavily used in San Joaquin Valley farming communities.

"New information in the scientific community leads us to believe the level of risk it poses is greater than previously known," California EPA Secretary Matthew Rodriquez said in a statement. "The actions we are taking today reflect our commitment to the health and safety of all Californians, and the environment."

California already prohibits farmers from applying the pesticide within 150 feet (45 meters) of a school or home, but officials say that could be increased to 450 feet (135 meters).

A draft of the new rules was released Friday, and after a public comment period officials could begin to enforce them in September—with more regulations expected in late 2018. Methods of applying the pesticide from helicopters and airplanes may also be restricted.

Bob Blakely, vice president of California Citrus Mutual, said the use of chlorpyrifos is declining, but it remains an important resource for farmers. It is the only way to kill some pests, like ants, and is safe when used properly, he said.

"It's a tool we need to have in the tool box and the ability to use it in the unique situation where it fits," said Blakely, adding that he is still reviewing the new rules.

David Sousa, a spokesman for pesticide manufacturer Dow AgroSciences, called California regulators' new rules "overly conservative."

Environmental and farmworker advocates, however, say the rules don't go far enough. They called for an outright ban.

Paul Towers of the advocacy group Pesticide Action Network said that need to more aggressively protect poor Latino farming communities.

"California officials have chosen to ignore the mountain of evidence and delay critical actions to protect California communities," he said. Officials are "failing to protect our most vulnerable populations, particularly pregnant women and children."

Explore further: States sue over EPA's decision to keep pesticide on market

Related Stories

California tightening rule on popular pesticide

October 6, 2016

California will tighten rules on how much farmers can use a common pesticide listed by the nation's most productive agricultural state as a chemical known to cause cancer, regulators told The Associated Press on Thursday.

California unveils strictest rules on pesticide

January 14, 2015

California farmers now must abide by the nation's strictest rules for a widely used pesticide in a change designed to protect farmworkers and people who live and work near agricultural fields but is likely to raise prices ...

California to ban some pesticides near schools

September 29, 2016

California is moving to ban farmers from spraying pesticides into the air near schools and day care centers under a newly proposed rule that will be among the nation's toughest, regulators told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Recommended for you

Glacier depth affects plankton blooms off Greenland

August 15, 2018

The unusual timing of highly productive summer plankton blooms off Greenland indicates a connection between increasing amounts of meltwater and nutrients in these coastal waters. In a new study published today in the international ...

When viruses infect phytoplankton, it can change the clouds

August 15, 2018

Microscopic plant-like organisms called phytoplankton are known to support the diversity of life in the ocean. Scientists in Israel now report that one species, Emiliania huxleyi, and a virus closely associated with it, might ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.