It's a pivotal moment for California's agricultural industry. For years, activists, scientists and residents living within agricultural communities have suspected that certain pesticides are more harmful than others. Among the pesticides at the top of that list: chlorpyrifos. Now the state is moving to officially ban it.
The pesticide, which is used on Monterey County crops like grapes and broccoli to stave off cabbage maggot, is a neurotoxin and is particularly harmful to certain vulnerable populations like pregnant women and small children.
The sales of the pesticide began in the 1960s, when it was allowed to be used on everything from golf courses to home gardens. But since then, its potential harmful health effects have come to light.
In 2000, the Dow Chemical Company began phasing out the pesticide for home use. In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency changed some product usage guidelines, which led to the creation of buffer zones to protect waterways and additional personal protective safety gear for farm workers applying chlorpyrifos.
Locally, groups like Safe Ag Safe Schools have called for greater buffer zones, more alerts when the insecticide was going to be used, and an outright ban.
Chlorpyrifos was listed as a toxic air containment by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation in April. In the same month, the U.S. Court of Appeals gave the EPA 90 days to make up its mind on banning the pesticide.
On May 8, the California Environmental Protection Agency announced that the state Department of Pesticide Regulation would initiate the cancelation process of the pesticide and toxic air containment. Gov. Gavin Newsom will propose $5.7 million in funding to find alternatives that are safer and more sustainable than chlorpyrifos.
In a DPR press release, CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld called the ban was a historic moment: “California’s action to cancel the registration of chlorpyrifos is needed to prevent the significant harm this pesticide causes children, farm workers and vulnerable communities."
State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, echoed the sentiment: “Today’s action by CalEPA and DPR represents an important step forward to protect the health of children and all rural Californians,” he said in a press release.
Safe Ag Safe Schools activists note the phase-out process can take up to two years. But it's a victory nonetheless for the group. "We’re elated that the governor has decided to cancel chlorpyrifos, and hope the process to end it goes as quickly as possible," Sarait Martinez, an organizer for the group, said in a press release. "Our babies' brains are at stake."
California will become the third U.S. state, after Hawaii and New York, to ban the pesticide.