State Steps Up Restrictions on Pesticide Linked to Brain Harm in Kids

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State regulators this week called for tighter restrictions on the use of a controversial pesticide linked to developmental disabilities and health problems in children, but advocates for farmworker communities called the proposal inadequate.

On Thursday, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) released recommendations urging county agricultural commissioners to curb farmers’ use of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide applied to a variety of crops throughout the state and the subject of a legal battle in federal court over efforts to outlaw the chemical nationwide.

DPR recommended counties ban all aerial applications of chlorpyrifos, limit its use to a narrower range of crops than presently allowed, and require a quarter-mile buffer zone around application sites where no unauthorized person can enter for at least 24-hours after the chemical is used. Farmers would also ensure that applications occur at least 150-feet away from homes, businesses and schools, the agency said.

“These are very stringent protections to protect people’s health,” said DPR spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe. “We think it’ll make a significant difference. This is not just nibbling along the edges, this is pretty severe.”

The restrictions are temporary while the state works on permanent regulations for chlorpyrifos, a process that’s expected to take two years, Fadipe said. Agricultural commissioners aren’t obligated to impose the restrictions, but counties usually act on DPR’s recommendations, sometimes enacting even stricter rules, she said.

But farmworker and anti-pesticide advocates slammed the new restrictions as inadequate. Mark Weller, co-director of the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform, said the recommendations don’t do enough to protect vulnerable people such as farmworkers and children from exposure to the pesticide. The only acceptable action by the state would be an outright ban on chlorpyrifos, or to at least suspend its use while DPR goes through the formal regulatory process, he said.

“The federal court of the United States says this shouldn’t be used at all, and here we are making these little tiny changes here and there,” Weller said. “The obvious choice is to suspend and better protect people, and if in the end of the hearing process they find they didn’t need to do that, well, then they’ve erred on the side of protection rather than profits.”

A federal appeals court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in August to ban all use of the pesticide nationwide within 60 days, citing evidence that residue of chlorpyrifos in food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children. The Trump administration is appealing the ruling. In the meantime, Hawaii has enacted legislation to ban use of the chemical starting in January.

DowDuPont, which manufactures the pesticide, maintains that chlorpyrifos is not harmful.

Sarait Martinez,a community organizer with Safe Ag Safe Schools, a coalition of union leaders, farmworkers, teachers and nurses campaigning against pesticide contamination in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, agreed the state’s actions were not enough. She said there’s a lot of fear and suspicion in farmworker communities about the health impacts of chlorpyrifos.

“We want our leaders to be protecting us and to be bold by really setting the tone for the rest of the nation,” she said. “We have all the science that we need, so I don’t know why the governor and the DPR director is not listening.”

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