The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering banning the use of chlorpyrifos, an agricultural pesticide that’s frequently used in Hawaii and throughout the United States.

The agency issued the proposed rule in response to an August court order by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The EPA is planning to accept public input on the proposal and may issue a final rule in December 2016.

“Based on EPA’s current analysis, there do not appear to be risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food, but, when those exposures are combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) safety standard,” the agency wrote.

A sign advertises the entrance to Dow AgroSciences in west Kauai on June 16, 2015.
A spokesman from Dow AgroSciences said the EPA’s proposed rule doesn’t affect the use of the insecticide during next year’s growing season. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

“This is what we have been seeking for years,” said Patti Goldman, an Earthjustice attorney, in a statement. “EPA’s and other independent findings show that chlorpyrifos causes brain damage to children and poisons workers and bystanders.”

According to Earthjustice, a national environmental organization, exposure to chlorpyrifos has been associated with reduced IQ, delayed development, and loss of working memory.

Kyle Smith, a Honolulu attorney who represented a group of Kauai residents who successfully sued DuPont Pioneer over property damage due to dust from fields, said it’s exciting that the EPA is moving forward with a rule change.

“It’s a chemical that they’ve known is dangerous for a long time,” he said. “It has a huge risk for drift off of the fields where it’s used.”

According to data from the state Department of Agriculture, more than 3.5 tons of chlorpyrifos were sold in Hawaii in 2014.

Trace amounts of chlorpyrifos were found in Waimea Canyon Middle School on Kauai in earlier years after concerns were raised about potential pesticide drift from a neighboring Syngenta farm.

Four seed companies — Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, BASF Plant Science and DuPont Pioneer — applied 3,095.92 pounds of chlorpyrifos on Kauai between December 2013 and August 2015, according to data from a voluntary reporting database.

Bennette Misalucha, executive director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said in a statement that the EPA announcement doesn’t affect the current use of chlorpyrifos.

“Our companies, like all users of regulated pesticides, are mindful of our responsibilities — and as reflected in our practices —are good stewards of the land and good neighbors in the community,” she said.

Garry Hamlin of Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis noted that the EPA issued the proposal prior to completing a health and safety analysis of the pesticide.

“Dow AgroSciences disagrees with EPA’s proposal and remains confident that all U.S. tolerance issues relating to the continued use of chlorpyrifos can be readily resolved with a more refined analysis of data,” he wrote in an email.

About the Author