California Bans Pesticide Linked to Brain Damage in Children

October 11, 2019 Updated: October 11, 2019

LOS ANGELES—A widely used agricultural pesticide that California environmental officials have said has been linked to brain damage in children will be banned after next year under an agreement reached with the manufacturer, state officials announced Wednesday, Oct. 9.

Under the deal, all California sales of chlorpyrifos will end on Feb. 6, 2020, and farmers will have until the end of 2020 to exhaust their supplies.

The pesticide is used on numerous crops in the nation’s largest agriculture-producing state—including alfalfa, almonds, citrus, cotton, grapes, and walnuts.

Pesticide Ban-Grapes
Grapes just picked are in a bin in Napa, Calif., on Aug. 29, 2014. (Eric Risberg/AP Photo)

State regulators have said chlorpyrifos has been linked to health defects in children, including brain impairment, and to illnesses in others with compromised immune systems.

“This is a big win for children, workers and public health in California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement after the deal was announced.

The president of the California Citrus Association, which represents about 5,000 growers, said in an interview that he believes the risks were not as great as the state made them out to be.

“We really thought the exposure assessments and risks were just inflated and it wasn’t a true characterization of the protections that were already in place,” said Casey Creamer.

Creamer added he appreciated that officials have agreed to budget $5.6 million to help pesticide manufacturers develop a safer alternative to chlorpyrifos.

“But just so you’re aware, that’s what agriculture does every day, we’re always looking for new products, safer products that are effective,” he said.

California Pesticide Ban
A foreman watches workers pick fruit in an orchard in Arvin, Calif., on May 13, 2004. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

The Obama administration announced in 2015 that it would ban chlorpyrifos after scientific studies funded in part by the federal Environmental Protection Agency showed the potential for brain damage in children. After President Donald Trump was elected, the EPA reversed that ban, questioning the studies’ validity.

By John Rogers