Washington State Takes Action to Protect People from Chlorpyrifos

Exposure to neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos can cause permanent health damage to babies and children. NCAP joined Columbia Legal Services, Earthjustice, Toxic-Free Future, United Farm Workers, and Community to Community in a coalition of organizations that helped advocate against continued use of chlorpyrifos.

Under a bill that passed the Washington legislature on March 10, the state must finally take steps to significantly limit the use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide known to be harmful to human brains – especially those of children. Senate Bill 6518, which was sponsored by Washington State Senator Christine Rolfes (D-23, Bainbridge Island) is now on its way to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee, requires the Washington State Department of Agriculture to make emergency rules that address “significant adverse health effects” of the chemical. 

Farm workers and people living in agricultural communities, particularly children, are disproportionately affected by this toxic pesticide. In addition to food exposures, they are more likely to have contaminated drinking water, to be exposed through pesticide drift on neighboring schools and fields, and to be exposed at home when farm worker parents return from work. Prenatal exposures to chlorpyrifos are associated with lower birth weight, reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention disorders, and delayed motor development. 

“Recognition of farmworkers’ right to health and safety on the job and in the community has been essentially non-existent,” said Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community Development in Bellingham. “It is a step forward that the Department of Agriculture will finally have to make rules about this poisonous chemical through a human health lens and will be accountable to the science on this issue.” 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned chlorpyrifos for most household use in 2000, and it had proposed banning all food uses in 2015, citing evidence that the pesticide causes neurological damage to children at low levels of exposure that are far below what EPA currently allows. However, the Trump EPA refused to ban chlorpyrifos, saying it needed to undertake further study. That decision is the subject of an ongoing court challenge by farmworker, health, civil rights, and labor groups, represented by Earthjustice. 

Since 2018, California, New York, and Hawaii have moved to ban the chemical, while measures are under consideration in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Jersey. On February 6, 2020, Corteva, Inc., the largest producer of chlorpyrifos in the country, announced it will halt sales of the chemical by the end of the year. 

“States are leading the way to protect farmworkers and children from this neurotoxic pesticide and we are happy that Washington, with Senator Rolfes’s leadership, has taken this step,” said Laurie Valeriano, Executive Director of Toxic-Free Future. 

The pesticide, often used under the tradename Lorsban, is used on a wide variety of crops, including apples, cherries, strawberries, corn, and onions. “Ecosystem-based alternatives to this chemical already exist that do not threaten the health of humans and wildlife,” said Ashley Chesser, Executive Director of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP). “We can do better.” 

The bill also provides funding for research on additional alternatives to chlorpyrifos, as well as a boost in funding for pesticide application safety education and training.  

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