Congress steps up where EPA failed | Pesticide Action Network
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Congress steps up where EPA failed

Kristin Schafer's picture

Earlier this week I had a chance to be on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC when legislation was introduced to ban chlorpyrifos. If these bills become law, millions of children and workers in the U.S. and around the world will no longer be exposed to this brain-harming pesticide.

This is very good news. But what I found most inspiring was the group that gathered to support the legislation.

Farmworkers, people living near agricultural fields and children's health advocates flew in from across the country to support banning chlorpyrifos. They met with legislators and spoke at the media event announcing the bills. A leading pediatric researcher, Dr. Philip Landrigan, stepped up to the podium to say there "wasn't a shadow of a doubt" that early life contact with this chemical — especially in the womb — is damaging children's brains.

And our friend from Minnesota, Bonnie Wirtz, told her powerful story of chlorpyrifos exposure in front of the cameras.

Real-life impacts

Bonnie's family was exposed to chlorpyrifos drift in 2012 when they lived on a farm and her son was an infant. The next spray season, she worked with PAN to set up a Drift Catcher in her yard, and documented chlorpyrifos in the air at four times the level of exposure considered "safe" for a one-year-old child. By that Fall, her son began missing his developmental milestones that, until then, he had been meeting like clockwork. Now almost six years old, her son was recently diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder.

In rural communities across the country, many stories of drift exposure like Bonnie's never get told. And farmworker poisonings also continue, like the recent case in a California cauliflower field that sent 18 workers to the emergency room.

There's risk for those who don't live or work in agricultural communities too, since the science now very clearly shows that even low levels of exposure — like what's found on fruits and vegetables we eat, and the water we drink — can cause neurodevelopmental harms.

In short, all of us will be better off when this pesticide is off the market.

A law we shouldn't need

As Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) made clear in introducing his bill this week, if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were doing its job, congressional action wouldn't be needed. Administrator Pruitt's controversial decision in March to ignore the recommendations of his own scientists and reverse course on a planned ban of chlorpyrifos serves the interests of no one — except the pesticide's maker, Dow Chemical.

Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), who co-sponsored the House version of the chlorpyrifos ban, underscored this point clearly:

 EPA Administrator Pruitt is showing his true colors by protecting big corporations at the expense of public health and safety. It's unconscionable for EPA to turn a blind eye as children and workers are exposed to this poison."

Both of these bills would ban the use of chlorpyrifos, and both should be supported. If one of your senators was among the original co-sponsors, please call and thank them! If they are not yet on board, please ask them to add their name. As Bonnie notes, "By leaving this chemical on the market, we're gambling with the lives of our children."


Photo: Twitter | @SenBlumenthal

Kristin Schafer
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Kristin Schafer's picture

Kristin Schafer is PAN's Executive Director. With training in international policy and social change strategies, Kristin has been at PAN for over 20 years. Before taking on the Executive Director role, she was PAN's program and policy director. She has been lead author on several PAN reports, with a particular emphasis on children's health. She serves on the Policy Committee of the Children's Environmental Health Network. Follow @KristinAtPAN