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New EPA administrator refuses to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt earlier this week signed an order denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide widely used in U.S. agriculture.

Chlorpyrifos was first registered for use in the United States by Dow Chemical in 1965  to control leafage and ground insects. It was used extensively on residential lawns and golf course turf as a structural termite control agent. Banned from home use for about 15 years, it is still allowed for agriculture uses so long as label instructions are followed.

chlorpyrifos_406x250The EPA earlier did an assessment showing dietary and drinking water risks for the current uses of chlorpyrifos, but opted to review the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects of chlorpyrifos as part of the ongoing registration review and complete its assessment by the statutory deadline of Oct. 1, 2022.

Based on current label uses, the revised analysis indicates that expected residues of chlorpyrifos on food crops exceed the safety standard under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). In addition, the majority of estimated drinking water exposure from currently registered uses, including water exposure from non-food uses, continues to exceed safe levels, even taking into account more refined drinking water exposure. This assessment also shows risks to workers who mix, load and apply chlorpyrifos pesticide products.

The petition the new EPA administrator denied sought to revoke all pesticide tolerances, referred to as maximum residue levels in food, for chlorpyrifos and cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Pruitt. “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.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture supported Pruitt’s action.

“This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at USDA. “It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world. This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States. It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables. We thank our colleagues at EPA for their hard work.”

In October 2015, the Obama Administration proposed to revoke all food residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos, an active ingredient in insecticides. This proposal was issued in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America. The October 2015 proposal largely relied on certain epidemiological study outcomes, whose application is novel, to reach its conclusions.

The public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on – and misapplication of – studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal.

The USDA disagrees with the methodology used by the previous Administration. Similarly, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also objected to EPA’s methodology. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) also expressed concerns with regard to EPA’s previous reliance on certain data the agency had used to support its proposal to ban the pesticide.

The FIFRA SAP is a federal advisory committee operating in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and established under the provisions of FIFRA, as amended by the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996.  It provides scientific advice, information and recommendations to the EPA Administrator on pesticides and pesticide-related issues regarding the impact of regulatory decisions on health and the environment.

To view the petition: https://www.epa.gov/pesticides

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