Oh, Nuts… California to Enact Ban on Use of Chlorpyrifos

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Earlier this month, California state officials announced plans to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used farm pesticide on crops such as oranges, grapes, and almonds. Chlorpyrifos is still approved for those uses by the EPA. The current EPA administration has been defending the chemical against court challenges after the Obama administration took steps to prohibit its use.

In April, chlorpyrifos was formally listed by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) as a “toxic air contaminant,” which California law defines as “an air pollutant which may cause or contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious illness, or which may pose a present or potential hazard to human health.” The state pointed to recent scientific evidence that prenatal exposure can pose risks to fetal brain and nervous-system development as support for its decision. That listing required the agency to develop control measures to protect the health of farm workers and others living and working near where the pesticide is used.

“We’re saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ We can’t wait for the federal government, which has been very slow and has kind of flip-flopped,” said Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the CalEPA.

The ban will take two years to be fully in place. Under the plan, farmers can still use chlorpyrifos during the interim period, but won’t be able to employ aerial spraying and must accept other restrictions. California’s new budget plan includes $5.7 million to study alternative pest-management methods and provide further assistance to farmers as they transition away from chlorpyrifos.

The EPA estimates that between five million and eight million pounds of chlorpyrifos is applied nationwide. California farmers have been using less chlorpyrifos in recent years, with the total usage declining from two million pounds in 2005 to 900,000 pounds in 2016. However, the chemical has remained a staple for farmers, with few viable alternatives.

As has become increasingly common, farmers and business find themselves in the middle of a conflict between state and federal agencies over the use of chemical. The EPA was ordered in April 2019 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to justify the agricultural use of chlorpyrifos. In light of California’s new ban, additional litigation between the EPA and California on the issue is likely. In the interim, farmers and businesses will have to undertake potentially costly measures to ensure compliance with what has become a patchwork of conflicting legislation.