MAY 31, 2017 5:33 PM PDT

A toxic pesticide that the EPA refused to ban has poisoned farmers

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide that can cause neurological disorders and harm brain development. The toxic pesticide was banned from indoor use more than ten years ago, but it is stilled often sprayed outside on crops such as oranges, apples, cherries, grapes and broccoli. What’s more, because residue remains on produce when it’s shipped, studies have shown that roughly 90 percent of American women have unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos in their bloodstreams. Children are particularly vulnerable to chlorpyrifos and are estimated to be exposed to more than 140 times the safe limit. Which all goes to say, the thing is toxic, and we shouldn’t be using it. Because of this, the pesticide was supposed to be banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in March, however EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt overruled the ban. Only months later, in early May, more than 50 farmworkers outside of Bakersfield, California, were exposed to the pesticide, resulting in twelve people falling ill.

“Twelve people reported symptoms of vomiting [and] nausea and one person fainted," reported the television news station Kern Golden Empire. "An additional twelve workers did not show signs of any symptoms," the station reported. "However more than half of the farm workers left before medical aide arrived."

Officials urged people to take caution. "Anybody that was exposed, that was here today, we encourage them to seek medical attention immediately. Don't wait. Particularly if you're suffering from any symptoms. Whether it's nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seek medical attention immediately," Michelle Corson, public relations officer at Kern County Public Health, stated on TV.

The market name of the pesticide the farmers were exposed to is Vulcan; it contains high levels of chlorpyrifos. It apparently drifted onto the farm via wind, from another farm nearby. Dan Andrews runs the farm and insisted that they don’t use chlorpyrifos.

“Unfortunately the wind moved it onto us, I’m not quite sure how it happened, thank God everyone’s OK,” he told Guardian US. “There were quite a few people feeling sick, some of them vomited, so we shut down the harvest.

“We are waiting for the investigation to conclude but I think they should ban (chlorpyrifos) to remove what’s causing the nausea. If it has had a history of incidents then it should be revisited and removed. Usually you worry about your own ranch, you don’t want to worry about other ranches. We are going to have to do due diligence before our shifts now.”

Chlorpyrifos is still used on farms to spray crops such as strawberries, apples, oranges, and broccoli. Photo: The Poor Traveler

Chlorpyrifos is produced by Dow Chemicals and you don’t have to look too deep to see that Dow is sitting pretty in the Trump administration. The company gave $1 million to the president's inaugural committee, according to the Center for Public Integrity. President Trump also named Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris chair of the American Manufacturing Council, stating that Liveris would "find ways to bring industry back to America."

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt justified denying the ban, saying that the pesticide gives “regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos”. The EPA stated that the plan to ban the toxin had “serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps” The chemical isn’t scheduled to be reviewed again until 2022.

Sources: The Guardian, Mother Jones,  The New York Times

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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