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Pesticide Action Network

Groups to California officials: Protect kids from brain toxin

For Immediate Release
Monday, January 27th, 2014

Media Contact:
Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network: 916-216-1082; [email protected]

Groups to California officials: Protect kids from brain toxin

Almost ten years after initiating an evaluation, state officials have failed to protect children from chlorpyrifos, a pesticide commonly used in agriculture and found on food.

Sacramento, Calif – A diverse group of over 70 organizations delivered a letter to California officials earlier today calling on them to protect children from a pesticide linked to impacts on health and intelligence.

Despite strong scientific evidence of risk the pesticide poses to children, federal and state officials have failed to take substantive action to address the use of chlorpyrifos in agricultural settings. A diverse coalition of farmworker, health and environmental groups is now looking to California officials to address growing concerns around the widely used pesticide.

“California should heed the science and take action to protect children where they live, learn and play,” said Sarah Aird, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, a statewide coalition of 185 organizations. “The agency is dragging its feet and we can’t afford to delay action on brain toxic pesticides. We can’t risk leaving the state’s children and their potential in harm’s way.”

Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide, is commonly sprayed on crops across the state, including citrus, grapes and almonds. Over 1.2 million pounds are applied in California each year.

US EPA cancelled all residential use of chlorpyrifos in 2001 because of the hazards posed to children’s developing brains and nervous systems — yet agricultural uses are still permitted. California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation began its review of the chemical back in 2004. And evidence from peer-reviewed studies about the adverse health impacts of chlorpyrifos has grown.
Children living in farm communities are especially at risk. In addition to chlorpyrifos exposure from residues on food, they may also be breathing airborne chlorpyrifos drift from nearby farms in their classrooms and homes. Farmworker children are exposed even more, as parents can carry pesticide residues home at the end of the day on work clothing and shoes.
“California communities on the frontlines of exposure deserve better protections,” said Isabel Arrollo, program director of El Quinto Sol de America. “The problem lingers and neurotoxic pesticides continue to be sprayed around our communities with few safeguards,” she added.

Independent studies, as well as documentation from the field, highlight the problems with drift-prone chlorpyrifos. El Quinto Sol de America members tested for chlorpyrifos near their homes abutting citrus groves and found the pesticide in the majority of samples taken in the air and in their bodies.

Advocates say that this evidence demonstrates why California officials need to take more aggressive action.

“California officials should take immediate steps to remove the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos from the market. They can begin by eliminating the most outdated application methods, including crop dusting and air blasting,” said Medha Chandra, PhD, campaign coordinator for Pesticide Action Network. “But restrictions alone won’t solve the problem, especially if growers replace chlorpyrifos with other highly hazardous pesticides. The state must also invest in green, cutting-edge alternatives to help farmers transition to a safer and more prosperous form of agriculture.”

Recent studies show that exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb and in early childhood, during critical stages of development, can lead to lasting effects on the brain.
Researchers in California’s Salinas Valley, for example, have observed lower IQs among children whose mothers were exposed to chlorpyrifos and similar pesticides during pregnancy. Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health used MRI technology to document significant changes in the brain structure of children exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb.
Researchers with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress on Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently urged policymakers to reduce the use of pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, that pose significant threats to children.
“The science is quite clear. Research from across the country shows that chlorpyrifos is a powerful neurotoxin,” said Dr. Felix Aguilar, MD, President and CEO of the UMMA Clinic. “Even very low levels can cause significant harm if exposure occurs during particular windows of development.”

Meanwhile, the coalition is awaiting a response from California officials about what steps they plan to take next.

Available for Interviews:

  • Isabel Arrollo, El Quinto Sol de America (Lindsay, Calif)
  • Medha Chandra, Pesticide Action Network (Oakland, Calif)
  • Sarah Aird, Californians for Pesticide Reform (Oakland, Calif)
  • Hazel Putney, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainability Economy (Santa Maria, Calif)
  • Daniel Garcia, Comité Cívico del Valle (Brawley, Calif)
  • Debbie Friedman, Moms Advocating Sustainability (Marin, Calif)
  • Martha Dina Arguello, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles


  • Report :: A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides undermine our children’s health and intelligence
  • Profiles of California communities that found chlorpyrifos in air and their bodies
  • Statement and policy recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Database of USDA sampling for chlorpyrifos residues on food
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