EPA to Ban Chlorpyrifos in Ag

EPA to Ban Chlorpyrifos Use on Food Crops, Review Other Non-Food Uses

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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The EPA has effectively ended all agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos by revoking its food residue tolerances for the insecticide. The agency promises to review non-food uses in the months to come. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- EPA delivered the final death blow to agricultural uses of the insecticide chlorpyrifos Wednesday, Aug. 18, in a long-awaited victory for environmental, labor and public health groups that have lobbied against the chemical for decades.

"In a final rule released today, EPA is revoking all 'tolerances' for chlorpyrifos, which establish an amount of a pesticide that is allowed on food," the agency explained in a news release. "In addition, the agency will issue a Notice of Intent to Cancel under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to cancel registered food uses of chlorpyrifos associated with the revoked tolerances."

The news release quoted EPA Administrator Michael Regan stating: "Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide."

Use of chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) in agriculture has already dropped significantly in the past decade, particularly after its primary registrant, Corteva Agriscience, halted production in 2020. But this action effectively ends all agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos on food and feed crops, including generic products. It does not immediately affect non-food uses of chlorpyrifos, such as mosquito control, which will be under review later in 2022, EPA noted.

"After considering public comments, the agency will proceed with registration review for the remaining non-food uses of chlorpyrifos by issuing the interim decision, which may consider additional measures to reduce human health and ecological risks," the press release read.

See the news release here: https://www.epa.gov/… and a pre-publication version of the new rule here: https://www.epa.gov/….

Chlorpyrifos, better known to farmers as the former product Lorsban, is an insecticide that targets biting and sucking pests such as aphids and is primarily used in soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton and orchard crops. Although a popular pest control option in the past, its use has fallen from 13 million pounds per year in the late 1990s, to 5 million to 7 million pounds per year starting around 2010, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In February 2020, citing this falling demand, Lorsban production was discontinued by Corteva. At the time, the Trump-led EPA vowed to continue its re-registration of the chemical, which would allow generic versions to stay on the market indefinitely. (See more here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…). And in December 2020, it did so, releasing a proposed interim registration decision keeping it on the market, with some label adjustments.

Now, the Biden EPA has effectively removed it from the market by ruling there is no safe level of chlorpyrifos residues for food or feed. This new revocation of food tolerances for the chemical will become effective 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register in the coming days.

Corteva, when reached for comment, said it believes the chemical should remain on the market, despite the company's phase-out of their Lorsban production.

"While Corteva Agriscience no longer produces chlorpyrifos, the Company stands by the safety of the product and its value for the grower community," an emailed statement to DTN said. "This action effectively removes an important tool for farmers and, while Corteva continues to review the order, it appears that the rationale used by the Agency is inconsistent with the complete and robust database of more than 4,000 studies and reports that have examined the product in terms of health, safety and the environment."

Chlorpyrifos has a long history of consumer safety concerns dating back to its original registrant, Dow Chemical, which neglected to alert EPA to reports of adverse human effects from its use for two decades. EPA fined the company $870,000 in 1995 and by 2000 had negotiated a removal of most chlorpyrifos products for household use.

In 2007, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned EPA to ban it, citing growing research implicating its neurotoxic effects, particularly on infants, and have been fighting EPA's denial of that petition in court ever since.

By 2015, the Obama EPA determined it would revoke most food tolerances for chlorpyrifos, but that decision was abruptly reversed in 2017 by Scott Pruitt, then-administrator of EPA.

After continued legal wrangling, the Ninth Circuit finally gave EPA an ultimatum in April 2021: either create a new rule, justified by data, that ensures the safe agricultural use of chlorpyrifos, or revoke its food residue tolerances once and for all.

"EPA has had nearly 14 years to publish a legally sufficient response to the 2007 Petition (to ban chlorpyrifos)," the court said in that decision. "The court remands this matter to the EPA with instructions to publish a legally sufficient final response to the 2007 petition within 60 days of the issuance of the mandate. That response must be a final regulation that either revokes all chlorpyrifos tolerances or modifies chlorpyrifos tolerances and makes the requisite safety findings based on aggregate exposure, including with respect to infants and children." (See more on that ruling from DTN here: https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

The EPA was given until Aug. 20, 2021; Wednesday's decision beats that deadline by two days.

Environmental and labor groups that have battled EPA in court over chlorpyrifos greeted EPA's decision with celebration.

"It took far too long, but children will no longer be eating food tainted with a pesticide that causes intellectual learning disabilities. Chlorpyrifos will finally be out of our fruits and vegetables," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman in an emailed statement to DTN.

"Today, we celebrate this huge victory alongside the men and women who harvest our food, who have waited too long for a ban on this pesticide," added Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers. "We are relieved that farmworkers and their families will no longer have to worry about the myriad of ways this pesticide could impact their lives."

Other groups urged EPA to take further action in the months ahead.

"Our understanding is that today's action will also result in a ban of chlorpyrifos use on commodity crops grown for feed, and in the coming months, EPA will consider action on all remaining (non-food) uses of chlorpyrifos as well," added Kristin Schafer, executive director of the Pesticide Action Network, in another emailed news release. "We urge the agency to also quickly withdraw these uses, so we can join the 35 countries that have already fully banned this dangerous chemical."

Agricultural groups expressed concern at the decision and its precedent moving forward, with the Agricultural Retailers Association releasing a statement to DTN: ""ARA is extremely disappointed in the decision to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos. This product has been an essential tool for growers who need to control insect pests so they can deliver the quality produce consumers expect to grocery shelves."

"ARA urges EPA to reconsider this decision and use every legal avenue available [to] reassert its statutory authority to be the regulator of these products," the statement added. "If not, this will result in a flood of additional lawsuits by anti-chemical activists seeking the same end-run that will jeopardize the continued use of other essential pesticides."

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

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Emily Unglesbee