Farmworkers Protest EPA’s Pesticide Ruling

As part of President Trump’s campaign against President Obama’s environmental regulations, Trump’s EPA has rejected a proposed rule banning a brain-damaging pesticide, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

The decision by President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency to rebuff the advice of its own scientists to ban the brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos has prompted protests from California’s farm worker communities, now demanding an immediate statewide ban of the dangerous chemical.

Environmental Protection Agency logo

A delegation delivered more than 167,000 petition signatures along with a letter signed by 75 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Californians. The petition was also co-signed by Care2, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Courage Campaign, CREDO, Friends of the Earth, and Pesticide Action Network.

EPA scientists have documented that chlorpyrifos can cause serious and profound neurological and respiratory damage, as well as developmental delays, autism and IQ loss for children — even in very small doses, say the activists.

They maintain that the use of chlorpyrifos is particularly problematic in California, “where more than one million pounds of the neurotoxic organophosphate pesticide are used each year, much of it in close proximity to schools and residences. Accounting for roughly 10% of the nationwide total, this chemical is applied on dozens of crops in the state. In the Monterey Bay Area, chlorpyrifos is most heavily used on wine grapes, Brussels sprouts, and apple orchards. In 2016, the air monitor at the Salinas Airport registered average air levels of chlorpyrifos three times higher than the EPA’s target risk level.”

According to Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR), a statewide coalition of more than 190 organizations, “after years of stalling, EPA was set to implement a ban on chlorpyrifos use on food crops in March. But under intense pressure from Dow Chemical, the largest manufacturer of the neurotoxic pesticide, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed the agency’s plan and announced he was allowing continued agricultural use of chlorpyrifos.”

The group’s statement went on to say “just last November, the EPA announced that it intended to revoke all food tolerances of chlorpyrifos, calling exposure to any amount unsafe. Underscoring the importance of this proposed ban, the agency cited the serious dangers of chlorpyrifos exposure and added that young children risk exposure from food residues alone that are 14,000 percent higher than the level EPA currently believes is safe.”

I spoke with Lucia Calderon, an organizer with Safe Ag Safe Schools and Californians for Pesticide Reform, about the battle against chlorpyrifos.

Dennis Bernstein: Tell us exactly what it is — what’s the chemistry we’re talking about here? And then we’ll talk about how dangerous it is.

Lucia Calderon: Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide, and its main action is to harm the brains of the insects that the agricultural industry is trying to kill. And, incidentally, it has been shown to really, really harm brains, especially children’s developing brains.

DB: Children’s developing brains — say a little bit more about that. Are there cases? Are there studies being conducted now? Are there examples of kids being hurt? What can you say about that?

LC: Yeah, well this is a really historical issue. Chlorpyrifos was actually banned for residential use. It started being phased out in 2000, because of its proven association with developmental harm. And UC Berkeley and Columbia University both had big parts in these studies. In 2000 the science was known that chlorpyrifos was extremely harmful to developing brains and bodies, and it was banned for residential use.

But nowadays it is not banned for agricultural use, and it’s still being used in our fields, especially in California fields. We account for a fifth of the entire nation’s use of this chemical pesticide. And so, what we’re looking at is science that has been established, and is continuing to come out, showing these really detrimental effects of this chemical. And there is complete inaction on the federal level.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt

DB: So the EPA was set to pass a ban on this, right? Until the new folks came in?

LC: Yes, exactly. The EPA was set on a deadline to revoke the tolerances of this chemical on March 31, 2017, and just a couple of days before that date our new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, reversed that ban. So what we’re doing now is going to the State of California. As a big user of chlorpyrifos, we are demanding that the State of California impose a ban on this chemical. And, as I mentioned the science before, a lot of it is coming out of California. We have the UC Berkeley CHAMACOS study, which stands for the Center for Health of Mother and Children of the Salinas Valley, right where Safe Ag Safe Schools is located. That study has been going on for almost 20 years, showing the connections between prenatal organophosphate chlorpyrifos exposure and lowering IQ, and respiratory issues as well.

DB: Tell us a little bit about who’s involved. Your group is working with the Pesticide Action Network: are there community groups or teachers involved? How are you bringing in the families?

LC: Californians for Pesticide Reform is a statewide coalition, and Safe Ag Safe Schools is only one of the organizations involved. And we represent the communities of the front line. We are from the affected communities, and we all get to come together through this statewide coalition, and then demand improvements and better protections for people living on the front lines of pesticide exposure — those working in the fields and living and attending school very close to the fields.

DB: Are there still problems in terms of schools? Does that come into it?

LC: Yes, definitely. And even regarding chlorpyrifos, we have a city in Monterey County, Greenfield, and two schools there — the middle school and the high school — rank 9th and 4th in the state for chlorpyrifos use within a quarter of a mile. We’re seeing issues with chlorpyrifos being applied around schools and we’re also just seeing issues with pesticide use in general around schools.

The most recent action we’ve had on that was establishing buffer zones around schools where pesticides could not be applied. We have been demanding for years a full mile buffer zone at all times around schools, where pesticides cannot be applied. And what we got were quarter mile buffer zones for parts of the day — from 6am to 6pm Monday through Friday. So we’re still fighting on that front as well. Right now we’re really trying to get chlorpyrifos banned, because it’s one of the nastiest chemicals out there.

DB: This is incredibly important because it affects children and their ability to learn. I understand that some of this, depending upon how you’re doused with this, could cause permanent damage, particularly in pregnant women and young, formative kids.

LC: Yes, one of the reasons that the federal EPA was going to ban the chemical was that the U.S. EPA found that for pregnant women and developing babies and for some children just the amount of chlorpyrifos they were consuming on food as food residue was way too high. The reason that the EPA was banning it was not only for food residues, but for how much is in the air. There’s also no safe amount of chlorpyrifos in drinking water, and it has contaminated a lot of our water supplies as well. So the danger is on all fronts, but especially for women of childbearing age and young children.

Dow Chemical Company logo

DB: And I’m gonna spell that because the name is a little bit unclear: it’s c-h-l-o-r-p-y-r-i-f-o-s — that’s the brain-harming chemistry that we’re talking about?

LC: Exactly, and it is produced by Dow AgroSciences.

DB: Dow?

LC: Yes, Dow Chemical. The CEO of Dow Chemical [Andrew Liveris] is the head of the American Manufacturing Council. Dow Chemical contributed a million dollars to Trump’s inauguration dinner. We’re now hearing reports that Scott Pruitt met with Dow right before he decided to reverse the ban of chlorpyrifos. So they’re a really big actor in this fight right now.

DB: Yeah, and they certainly have the reputation, shall we say, for doing terrible things to people. We thank you for this important information.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at

19 comments for “Farmworkers Protest EPA’s Pesticide Ruling

  1. Jaidev Singh
    July 23, 2017 at 20:18

    First of all ban in India….more corruption by manufacturers because corrupt politicians who are not favouring ban. Mostly politicians are involved in this business of agricultural pesticides. ..

    • Mild-ly Facetious
      July 23, 2017 at 22:36

      Agra-Business— Globalized.

      Find the great body of work on this topic by VANDANA SHIVA.

  2. Becky Miles
    July 23, 2017 at 09:33

    It is extremely appalling that any administration would allow the spraying of this chemical to continue. We have extremely lax chemical laws in here in WA state and there are sprays going down after timber harvests that are also banned from individual property (lawn) use. These lands border many family homes. I have read that 40% of sprays are lost in drift which means that they are getting on individual properties anyway. This decision by Scott Pruitt is proof of how much this administration cares about the people in this country. Not at all.

  3. mike k
    July 22, 2017 at 20:22

    And the answer is…………………………Organic Farming!

  4. mike k
    July 22, 2017 at 18:46

    Rachel Carson triggered my ecological awakening when Silent Spring first came out. It has only gotten worse re: pesticides since then. Thanks to corporate science we get to eat poison every day. We never use poison back here in the woods. The insects are our friends, just like the bacteria and all creatures great and small. God bless them all!

  5. Mild-ly Facetious
    July 22, 2017 at 15:03

    RETROGRADE PRESIDENT – but I repeat myself…

  6. July 22, 2017 at 14:44

    …nice investigative reporting by D.B.. I live in California across from one of these vineyards where notice is occasionally given to residents, but although the field workers are using protective masks, you know the residue must be leaching into the ground aquifer. The connection between the EPA’s backsliding for bribes and people’s health problems is all too real.

  7. Keith Pritchard
    July 22, 2017 at 14:34

    I was ticked off when they removed Dursban from the cats flea collars. My kids were raised with it and were near straight A students. Used it around the house for ants too, Also sprayed a vineyard floor drench a long time ago for two years (Lorsban) to interrupt the cycle of Grape root borers. As it is the only material in a drench that will work on them as it kills them as they bore in to the ground. Root borers destroy vines by burrowing in large roots and are on a 2 year cycle. I’ve never sprayed it on the leaves and fruit though. Other materials do well on the insect pressure I have here that destroy leaves and fruit. Not sure what they spray it for in California, likely something hard to control with other materials. I take any of these studies with a grain of salt. In the past they have banned things that have later proved to be not harmful, but of course we never get them back to use again.

    • Stygg
      July 22, 2017 at 19:46

      Like what? Perhaps you could name some of these substances that are proven not to be harmless but that remain banned (cannabis comes to mind, but not any pesticides).

      • Stygg
        July 22, 2017 at 19:48

        Typo, that should read “proven to be harmless.”

      • Bob Goodwin
        July 29, 2017 at 06:54


  8. July 22, 2017 at 09:49

    Californians: Sign the petition to ban use of chlorpyrifos, and all organophosphates:

    Round Up and all of it’s derivatives are not environment friendly

    • Virginia
      July 22, 2017 at 18:24

      Thanks, Mijkm. I signed. One would think CA would be even more progressive on good, wholesome, natural foods. The petition will help.

  9. Peter E. Gumpel
    July 22, 2017 at 07:32

    A question here: Why cannot this pesticide be regulated and banned for agricultural use at the state level? California has an apparently progressive Governor and state legislature, so why doesn’t it step in if the EPA doesn’t act on the federal level? States do have the authority to regulate pesticide use. See the following excerpt from the Wikepedia entry on “Pesticide Regulation in the United States”:

    “States are authorized to pass their own pesticide regulations provided they are at least as stringent as federal regulations. States receive their pesticide regulation authority through the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and through state pesticide laws. States can require registration of pesticides that are exempt under FIFRA. When there is a special local need for a particular pesticide, states are authorized to add uses to that pesticide under section 24(c) of FIFRA. According to FIFRA, states are given primary enforcement responsibility when the USEPA has determined that they meet three requirements. First, the state must have state pesticide regulations that are at least at stringent as the federal regulations. Second, the state must have adopted procedures to allow enforcement responsibilities to be carried out. Third, the state must keep adequate records detailing enforcement actions. If the EPA determines that the state agency has not carried out its enforcement responsibilities, EPA reports the allegation to the state. At this point the state is given 90 days to respond, after which EPA can rescind the state’s enforcement authority if it is deemed necessary. State regulation of pesticides began in 1975. USEPA conducted a pilot program with six states taking over primary enforcement responsibility for FIFRA. In 1978 FIFRA was amended giving all states primary enforcement responsibility, provided their programs are approved by EPA. The enforcement responsibilities include ensuring that pesticide users follow label requirements, investigating pesticide use complaints, and inspections of pesticide users, dealers, and producers. The state agencies also have primary responsibility for training and certifying pesticide applicators. Currently, all states have enforcement responsibility and most have certification authority. The lead agency for pesticide regulation varies from state to state but it is typically the state department of agriculture. FIFRA authorizes USEPA to provide funding for state pesticide programs. Many states augment the funds with user fees such as pesticide registration fees.

    • Skip Scott
      July 22, 2017 at 09:51

      In the first paragraph they say they are calling for a state-wide ban in California. It’s in the “works”. It is a shame that they toss all this “Russia-gate” BS at Trump in the MSM, and ignore important issues like his gutting of the EPA.

  10. john wilson
    July 22, 2017 at 05:02

    I’m surprised that pesticides are used on apple trees and sprouts both of which I and my family before me have grown for the last hundred years. We have a few apple trees at the end of our garden which are at least 50 years old with no problems, and I and my father and grand father have grown sprouts every year and never has any kind of blight. Neither has anyone else we know. As far as sprouts are concerned, they are a winter vegetable and frost kills off any bugs that might be about. Maybe there’s something about the California weather?

    • July 22, 2017 at 09:52

      Because the logic of profit rules out any other logic, John. It is a pure business model for profit. Like endless war.

  11. Cal
    July 22, 2017 at 04:20

    For what its worth use distilled water for drinking…it tasteless but contains no pollutants,

    • Chucky LeRoi
      July 23, 2017 at 14:20

      Are there not some concerns that long term use of distilled water can lead to mineral imbalaces in the body due to the water having no minerals as well as no pollutants? Something about the water actually leaching minerals from the body. I admit, this could be hype from the ‘ natural ‘ water suppliers. Just asking…

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