California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced today that the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos is now a "restricted use" pesticide. Sounds pretty impressive, right? But wait, it’s actually not that great.
What it really means is this: anyone wanting to use chlorpyrifos in the state now has to file additional paperwork with county agricultural commissioners. Some conditions may apply once use is approved, such as adhering to small "protection zones" — which can be as little as 25 to 150 feet — around sprayed fields. We think California's children and rural communities deserve much better.
Study after study links chlorpyrifos exposure to significant brain impacts such as increased risk of ADHD, autism and reduced IQs in children. Yet according to the most recent data, more than 1.46 million pounds of this brain-harming pesticide were used on California farms in 2013 — a 40% increase from 2012.
Keeping all this in mind, this "restricted use" designation for chlorpyrifos is like proposing band-aids as treatment for broken bones. While we're mildly encouraged that DPR is willing to do at least this much, it’s clearly not in any way adequate.
California leadership needed
Compare DPR's announcement to yesterday's U.S. EPA announcement of potential revocation of all agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos in response to a legal petition filed by PAN and allies including NRDC and Farmworker Justice.
This announcement is an important acknowledgment by EPA that bold action on chlorpyrifos is needed. But the fact remains that federal action to phase out all uses could take years to put in place. And EPA's proposal has loopholes that could mean that a ban doesn't actually happen at all.
This makes it essential that children in California get the best possible protections from chlorpyrifos through California's DPR, now.
Even EPA acknowledges that bold action on chlorpyrifos is needed.
Chlorpyrifos’ health harms for children have been well documented in studies from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Columbia and Harvard, to name but a few well-regarded universities. The pesticide is so harmful for children’s brain health that it was banned nationally for all residential uses in 2000.
In a California Department of Public Health report from 2014, chlorpyrifos emerged as one of the top 10 pesticides applied within ¼ mile of schools in the 15 counties studied in the report. This is truly twisted — that the places our children go to learn are the very places their brainpower could be seriously compromised due to exposure to this high-use pesticide.
False sense of security
Here's why DPR's proposed rules won't work. PAN’s allies at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analyzed California Pesticide Use Reporting data from the last 25 years on 10 restricted use pesticides, and saw no pattern of sustained decrease in use resulting from the restricted use designation. In fact, the analysis revealed that for 67% of the restricted use pesticides analyzed, use actually increased.
So it's very likely that the "restricted use" designation for chlorpyrifos won’t end up doing very much to reduce use or the related exposures for children across the state.
The inadequacy of the current DPR rules is also evident in the fact that the proposed protection zones of 25-150 feet are much smaller than what some counties in the state already have in place. Several counties already maintain ¼ mile buffer zones for restricted use pesticides around schools, and some — such as Kern, Imperial, Kings and Riverside — also include buffers around residential areas. These current ¼ mile buffer zones that are present in some counties are 53 times wider (yes, you read that right!) than the smallest protection zone (25 feet) that DPR’s current restricted use designation call for.
Californians for Pesticide Reform's co-director Sarah Aird responded to DPR's new rules this way:
Today’s announcement is window dressing on the state’s failure to protect California communities from neurotoxic chlorpyrifos. The Department of Pesticide Regulation must do more to ensure that kids aren’t left behind while the regulatory process drags on.
DPR has a long history of foot-dragging on chlorpyrifos since it started assessing the risks of the pesticide back in 2004. The agency has not even completed its human health risk assessment, and continues to take small steps like this one instead of the bold, decisive action needed to protect children and vulnerable communities from a proven neurotoxic pesticide like chlorpyrifos.
California has long been a national leader on environmental health. The state’s farmers are known for their innovation, creativity and productivity. There are proven examples showing that farming without chemicals like chlorpyrifos can be profitable in the state. Let's bring out our uniquely Californian can-do spirit and ensure a safer, healthier future for all children in California.