Today is another post on a specific pesticide called chlorpyrifos. It’s been in the news lately as multiple states and the EPA are considering a ban on it. It’s a relevant topic, so I’ll spend some time detailing information on the chemical. If you’d like some general information on pesticides, take a look at this post detailing glyphosate and atrazine, two of the most common pesticides used today.
Chlorpyrifos, also called Lorsban, is a commercial insecticide introduced to the market in 1965 by the Dow Chemical Company. It’s popularity significantly increased after DDT was banned in the 1970s, and its popularity remains high to this day. It’s used on agricultural products like corn, soybeans, fruit trees, cranberries, broccoli, and row crops as well as on non-agricultural land like golf courses, turf, and utility poles.
It is classified as an organophosphate and works by interfering with cholinesterase, an enzyme essential to the nervous system of both insects and humans. It adheres strongly to soil and is not water soluble, so it’s unlikely to contaminate groundwater.
As for human health, small amounts of exposure can cause headaches, vomiting, muscle cramps, or blurred vision. It isn’t carcinogenic, but it has been linked to impaired child development at low doses. In 2016, the EPA released an updated risk assessment for chlorpyrifos stating that the expected residues on food crops exceed the safety standard under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDC).
The pesticide has been the topic of legal battles ever since. The EPA wants to continue evaluating the risks of chlorpyrifos as part of the regular registration review process. This is a program mandated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) where registered pesticides are reviewed by the EPA every 15 years to determine whether they continue to meet standards and can be re-registered. The next deadline is October 2022.
Whether it will be banned before then is up to a federal court. Chlorpyrifos continues to be used worldwide, with those in favor of its use claiming that there are no viable alternatives. Those against its use claim a different type of insecticide can be used and/or that holistic land management practices can serve as an alternative.
So how do you know if chlorpyrifos is used in your food? Well conventional agriculture is very likely to use it. Chlorpyrifos residue has been found on barley, flax, quinoa, and apples, among other produce.
If you’d like to avoid this pesticide, you can buy USDA Organic, though it may still be contaminated with residue. Pesticides don’t understand property lines, unfortunately. For a surer bet, you can look for Certified Pesticide Residue Free (label shown below), though I don’t believe it’s very common.
As always, if you feel strongly one way or the other on this topic, you can contact the USDA, EPA, or your elected officials. If I see an open comment period on this or a related topic, I’ll add it to a post. Until next time!