Picture of Paul Towers

Paul Towers

Who’s calling the shots?

Two weeks ago, sitting next to the current director of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and across from the former director-turned-Clorox lobbyist, I hoped for the best. We sat around a table discussing alternatives to hazardous pesticide use on homes, schools and in agriculture.

But progress on this front can often feel like an uphill battle. And as a recent Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) piece pointed out, chemical corporations and their lobbyists are all too often dominating policy conversations.

The opening of the CIR article highlights the problem well:

Paul Helliker had a job for Dow AgroSciences.

As director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, Helliker had allowed some growers to ignore the restrictions for a pesticide called 1,3-Dichloropropene, which the state believed caused cancer.

The loophole was supposed to be temporary. Helliker gave Dow, the company that manufactures 1,3-D, and growers two years to come up with a plan to follow his department’s rules or to create new ones.

It took Dow less than a year to hand in its proposal. The company’s plan didn’t close the loophole, however. It greatly expanded it.

Former director Helliker isn’t the only one to work closely with the pesticide industry. Jim Wells, the first director of DPR, is also a member of the "revolving door" club.

Wells is currently the president of Environmental Solutions Group, a front group for industrial ag interests (including Dow) represented by the lobby firm Kahn, Soares and Conway. And recently, he was caught protecting that corporation’s interests by keeping tabs on the digging done by CIR, repeatedly requesting the same records that investigators had asked for.

These examples alone are enough to raise concern, and there’s likely much we don’t know taking place in closed-door meetings. As state officials consider steps to restrict brain-harming chlorpyrifos, another pesticide manufactured by Dow, it’s not always clear where loyalties lie.

Chlorpyrifos in the crosshairs

Citing health harms, the insecticide chlorpyrifos was banned for indoor use more than a decade ago. Since then, it has continued to be widely used on crops across California — including grapes, nuts and citrus.

And for a decade, California officials have been in the process of evaluating agricultural use of chlorpyrifos. They have kept to a doggedly slow timeline despite an ever-growing body of evidence linking exposure to this chemical with impacts on children’s developing brains. Unfortunately, much of the chlorpyrofos used in the state is on fields near California schools, and it is frequently found in air and water samples near these application sites.

Last month, DPR officials announced very modest steps towards local oversight of chlorpyrifos applications, and Dow (not surprisingly) rejected them outright.

What’s clear is that DPR will need strong leadership, rooted in science, to help the agency overcome pesticide industry influence and create comprehensive protections for children. Best practices for community health and a thriving food system should dictate policy, not Dow's bottomline.

Take Action » Help put the pressure on DPR to act on brain-harming chlorpyrifos. Ask Governor Brown to step in and push the agency for swift, meaningful action.

Picture of Paul Towers

Paul Towers

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