The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Biden administration announced on Aug. 18 that it will halt the use of a pesticide that many studies have linked to negative health effects.
Chlorpyrifos, a widely used agricultural pesticide, will be banned from use for all food production purposes in order to protect human health, especially that of children and farmworkers, the EPA announced. The ban will take effect in six months’ time.
“Today, EPA is taking an overdue step to protect public health,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide.
“After the delays and denials of the prior administration, EPA will follow the science and put health and safety first.”
The EPA under President Barack Obama moved to ban chlorpyrifos in October 2015 in response to a petition. A federal judge gave the agency until March 2017 to decide whether to finalize the ban.
The EPA under President Donald Trump, who took office in 2017, reversed that decision.
“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement at the time. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making—rather than predetermined results.”
While alternatives to chlorpyrifos exist for many crops, there are some, such as citrus and grape orchards, for which farmers will be left with no viable alternative to protect their crops.
Biden’s EPA has said it’s “committed to reviewing replacements and alternatives to chlorpyrifos.”
Chlorpyrifos has been used as a pesticide since 1965 on a wide range of produce, including almonds, citrus, cotton, soybeans, broccoli, and other crops. It’s also used in non-agricultural settings, such as golf courses.
The chemical compound at certain concentrations has been reported to inhibit an enzyme that regulates nerve signals, which has been said could lead to neurological effects, including seizures, paralysis, and brain damage.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, children who are exposed to chlorpyrifos have been reported to have more developmental delays and disorders, as well as more attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders.
The latest move by the EPA comes in response to an April order from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (pdf), which directed the agency to issue a final rule to revoke all maximum allowed residue levels of chlorpyrifos in food.
Chlorpyrifos has been banned for indoor home use since 2001.
In 2020, California banned all sales of chlorpyrifos products. Other states, such as Hawaii, New York, Maryland, and Oregon, have also taken moves to ultimately phase out chlorpyrifos.