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State officials fail to take meaningful action on brain-harming pesticide

After a decade of delay, both federal and state officials acknowledge the dangers of chlorpyrifos, but neither has taken action to provide necessary protections for California communities


Press contacts: Paul Towers, PAN North America, (916) 216-1082,
Kimiko Martinez, NRDC, (310) 434-234

Sacramento, CA — After more than a decade of review, state officials released new rules today that health and farmworker advocates say are insufficient to protect children and vulnerable communities from Dow Chemical Company’s brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos. Despite a promising announcement yesterday by U.S. EPA, it could be years before federal regulators make newly proposed restrictions on the chemical a reality, leaving California children in harm’s way.

As a result, advocates continue to press for swift protections, including meaningful no-spray buffer zones around California schools and homes.

“Today’s announcement is window dressing on the state’s failure to protect California communities from neurotoxic chlorpyrifos,” said Sarah Aird, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform. “The Department of Pesticide Regulation must do more to ensure that kids aren’t left behind while the regulatory process drags on.”

With today’s announcement by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), Dow’s chlorpyrifos joins dozens of other hazardous and volatile pesticides that have received the “restricted use” designation. The designation requires individual county agricultural commissioners to review and permit each potential application of the chemical within their respective county.

Maria Brito is a mother of four from the Central Valley community of Orosi, whose family lives near an orange grove. She had this reaction to the news: “The new designation will not stop use of this chemical near schools and communities. More protection is needed so other parents don’t go through what I’m going through with my kids. I have to be very careful with their health and I’m worried when my daughter tells me that she can smell poison when she’s at school,” she said. Brito’s eldest child is one of many in the community that has been diagnosed with autism. 

The restricted use designation gives counties more oversight but has failed to yield significant reductions in the use of many hazardous pesticides over the years. For example, only 6 of 10 of the highly hazardous pesticides most used near schools are designated restricted use pesticides, and for a majority of those (67%), pesticide use has actually increased after the restricted use designation. Last year, California Department of Public Health officials documented chlorpyrifos use in close proximity to 438 public schools.

“California’s own data shows that the restricted use designation is too weak to curtail use of dangerous pesticides like chlorpyrifos,” said Veena Singla, PhD, staff scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, who led an extensive review of the data. “Even with a restricted use designation in place, use of other hazardous and drift-prone pesticides continues to balloon in the state. Communities should know they will be safe from toxic pesticides in the places they live, learn, work and play, but today’s announcement from the Department of Pesticide Regulation looks more like an empty promise.”

California officials have been evaluating continued use of chlorpyrifos since 2004. The pesticide was nationally banned for household use in 2000 because of risks to children’s health, but more than 1.4 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are still applied in California fields annually, more than any other state. Use of chlorpyrifos actually rose significantly in California in 2013, the most recent data available — with heavy use on fruit and nut orchards, vineyards and row crops.

The continued widespread agricultural use of chlorpyrifos results in ongoing significant exposure through contaminated foods and drinking water, and from pesticides drifting from farmland into neighboring areas.

“Regardless of county, race or income, all Californians have the right to live in healthy communities without the threat of exposure to neurotoxic pesticides,” said Medha Chandra, PhD, campaign coordinator at Pesticide Action Network. “As the largest user of chlorpyrifos in the country, it’s critical that our state has strong rules in place so that every child has the chance to grow up free of the harms of this toxic chemical.”

In September 2014, DPR announced their intention to make chlorpyrifos a restricted material, as they continued to complete their much-delayed risk assessment. In December, U.S. EPA released their overdue draft assessment of the impacts of the chemical on human health, which failed to address concerns around exposure for children and pesticide drift for neighbors and farmworkers.

Yesterday, in response to legal action by environmental health and farmworker advocates, the federal agency announced that it may take steps to cancel use of the pesticide, unless pesticide manufacturers agree to new restrictions.

In addition to making chlorpyrifos a restricted material, state officials released “recommended permit conditions” that encourage counties to enforce small buffers or “protection zones” of 25 to 150 feet around sprayed fields. Several counties already maintain buffer zones for restricted use pesticides at much larger distances around schools, and some — such as Kern, Imperial, Kings and Riverside — include buffers around residential areas. 

“These recommended protection zones fall far short of what is needed to protect children from this brain-harming pesticide” said Anne Katten, Pesticide and Work Safety Specialist with California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation who is concerned about exposure to both contaminated dust and spray drift. She added that a number of counties are already enforcing larger ¼ mile buffer zones around schools for restricted pesticide applications.

Research from the University of California, Berkeley, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and Columbia University links chlorpyrifos exposure to increased risk of ADHD, developmental delay and falling IQs in children. In the most recent University of California, Davis MIND Institute study, mothers who lived within one mile of chlorpyrifos applications during pregnancy had three times the risk of having children with autism.

Many farmers across the state already don’t use the chemical, utilizing instead a range of sustainable farming tools and practices. Groups have pushed California officials to prioritize investments in and support for sustainable and organic agriculture in “ag innovation zones” around sensitive areas, especially schools.



About the Pesticide Action Network
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. As one of five PAN Regional Centers worldwide, we link local and international consumer, labor, health, environment and agriculture groups into an international citizens’ action network. This network challenges the global proliferation of pesticides, defends basic rights to health and environmental quality, and works to ensure the transition to a just and viable society. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @pesticideaction

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Pesticide Action Network

Pesticide Action Network is dedicated to advancing alternatives to pesticides worldwide. Follow @pesticideaction

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