In a win for environmental and farmworker groups, a federal appeals court ruled April 29 that the US Environmental Protection Agency must, within 60 days, ban all uses of chlorpyrifos on food or establish new residue levels for the insecticide that are safe for children. The decision comes after over a decade of pressure on the agency to address the neurotoxic effects of the organophosphate pesticide on children and farmworkers.
The EPA proposed banning chlorpyrifos on food in 2016 in response to a 2007 petition from environmental groups. But the agency reversed that decision in 2017 under the Trump administration. Environmental and labor groups have challenged the EPA on the issue ever since.
The court’s ruling in the latest case, filed in 2019 by a coalition of groups represented by the law firm Earthjustice, could finally put an end to the yearslong debate over the safety of the pesticide, which was once widely used.
“The Court got it right: EPA’s time is now up,” Patti Goldman, a managing attorney at Earthjustice, says in a statement. “EPA must now follow the law, ban chlorpyrifos, and protect children and farmworkers from a pesticide we know is linked to numerous developmental harms,” she says. While Earthjustice is celebrating its win, the group is urging the EPA to ban the use of all organophosphate pesticides on food to protect public health.
The EPA is reviewing the safety of organophosphate pesticides as a class as part of the registration review process for pesticides. It expects to complete that review in 2022.
Chlorpyrifos was once the top-selling organophosphate insecticide in the US, but demand has declined. In late 2019, California struck a deal with pesticide makers to phase out nearly all uses of the chemical in that state by the end of 2020. California had been the biggest market for chlorpyrifos in the US. The European Union ended sales of the pesticide in early 2020.
Citing low demand, manufacturer Corteva Agriscience stopped making chlorpyrifos last year.