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All eyes on chlorpyrifos

Linda Wells's picture
Linda Wells
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Here in Minnesota, the state Department of Agriculture (MDA) just announced a review of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for all agricultural insecticides, but with a special focus on chlorpyrifos.

Why chlorpyrifos? Like many places around the globe, Minnesota has alarmingly high levels of chlorpyrifos in our lakes and rivers. And while chemical build-up in the environment is never a good thing, with chlorpyrifos it's especially troubling because of its well-documented harms to children's health.

The review is a good step for Minnesota, but the global chlorpyrifos problem is too urgent to rely on state-by-state, voluntary measures.  

Here, there & everywhere

The MDA's decision to focus on chlorpyrifos comes after three consecutive years of surface water testing (2010-2012) found chlorpyrifos in Minnesota lakes above the acceptable level for aquatic life.

Minnesota is not alone — chlorpyrifos buildup in surface water is a common problem around the globe.

This summer, a New Zealand study published in the journal Environmental Pollution found chlorpyrifos in 87% of the streams tested. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has reported frequent detections of unacceptable levels of chlorpyrifos in streams and rivers. The chemical has been documented in the air of schools on the island of Kaua'i, and found in places far, far away from where it is applied: residues of chlorpyrifos have been measured in the Arctic and in the air above the Southern Alps.

Double trouble

There are two serious problems with chlorpyrifos. The first, as detailed above, is that it's persistent — meaning that it can stay in the environment for a long time before dissipating. And, as we continue to use the chemical, the levels of chlorpyrifos in our lakes and rivers continue to climb.

The second is that the chemical is hazardous to human health, especially young children. According to Dr. Meriel Watts, Coordinator of Pesticide Action Network New Zealand,

At very low levels [chlorpyrifos] interferes with brain development in the unborn fetus and newborn infants, resulting in altered brain structure, lowered IQ, and behavioural changes including pervasive developmental disorder, leading to potential long-term consequences for social adjustment and academic achievement.

The combination of high toxicity and long persistence makes chlorpyrifos a top candidate for global concern.

Phase it out

There have been several pushes to get chlorpyrifos off the market. In recognition of its toxicity to children, it was banned in the U.S. for home use over a decade ago. But it is still a widely used agricultural insecticide. According to the EPA, the U.S. uses about 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos annually, which means that rural kids are still being exposed on a regular basis and residues on food continue to be a concern.

Dr. Watts is part of the PAN International effort to list chlorpyrifos under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants for a global ban. Here at PAN North America we're urging Congress to take action now to protect kids from chlorpyrifos and other neurotoxins. Please sign our petition to Senators, and ask your friends and family to do the same. 

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