July 25, 2019
By the Children’s Health Defense Team
Chlorpyrifos—described by some as “the most dangerous pesticide you’ve never heard of”—is an insect-killing organophosphate. Organophosphates trace their roots back to Nazi-era IG Farben nerve gases; contemporary scientists still describe the compounds as “junior-strength nerve agents” that have a mechanism of action comparable to sarin. Dow Chemical—the company that helped bring the world mustard gas during World War I and napalm and Agent Orange during the Vietnam war—is the manufacturer of chlorpyrifos-containing insecticides.
In the U.S., the agriculture industry applies millions of pounds of chlorpyrifos annually to at least 50 major food crops. Farms around the world also use the chemical “heavily and ubiquitously.” Chlorpyrifos-sprayed crops include some of the foods most likely to be consumed by children, such as corn, soy, apples, oranges, strawberries and nuts. Researchers have linked both prenatal and postnatal chlorpyrifos exposure to brain damage even at the lowest detectable doses. They also note that exposure “is not limited to agricultural environments, as [organophosphates] are ubiquitous in food, dust, and air”—although adults and children who eat an organic diet display significantly reduced levels.
Flagging exposure to chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and other developmental problems—including higher-order cognitive deficits, attention deficits, lower IQ scores and impaired working memory—concerned scientists have been sounding the alarm for quite some time. Yet, despite the substantial body of evidence documenting adverse effects not just on human health but also on wildlife and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proclaimed on July 18 that it will take no action other than to “continue to review the safety of chlorpyrifos.”
… the agency admitted that it was unable to conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure from the use of chlorpyrifos met federal safety standards.
A history of stonewalling
As the Union of Concerned Scientists has remarked, the EPA does not regulate chemicals “willy-nilly” but “usually has to be pushed, sometimes hard.” This observation may help explain the EPA’s erratic behavior and frequent stonewalling with regard to chlorpyrifos over the past two decades.