The Government Refused to Ban This Pesticide. Here Are Some Local Farms Who Won’t Use It

In March, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ignored recommendations from his agency’s own scientists and rejected a ban on chlorpyrifos, a widespread agricultural pesticide linked to cognitive impairment and brain disorders in children. 

Chlorpyrifos was banned for most home uses in 2000. Under a court order, the EPA had until March 2017 to respond to a petition, filed by environmental groups in 2007, to also ban the chemical on farms.

“We do not use any pesticides with chlorpyrifos in them,” Pooh Sprague, a New Hampshire farmer, said in an email.

Sprague’s family-run operation, Edgewater Farm, sits along an idyllic stretch of the Connecticut River in Plainfield, N.H. The farm has been moving away from pesticides like chlorpyrifos since the 1980s, Sprague said.

The EPA proposed a complete ban on chlorpyrifos in 2015. In a risk analysis published in 2016, the agency said children were exposed to up to 140 times the safe levels of the pesticide through food alone.

National Public Radio called the EPA’s sudden reversal, “a signal that toxic chemicals will face less restrictive regulation by the Trump administration.”

WHAT IS CHLORPYRIFOS?

Chlorpyrifos (pronounced: klawr-pir-uh-fos) is an organophosphate pesticide. It is sprayed on crops to kill insects.

“They’re considered junior-strength nerve agents because they have the same mechanism of action as nerve gases like sarin,” Dana Boyd Barr, a scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, told National Geographic.

HOW ARE PEOPLE EXPOSED?

People come into contact mostly through food, tainted drinking water, and “spray mist,” a fog generated by spraying pesticides over fields.

In agricultural communities near factory farms, chlorpyrifos residue can be found on picnic benches, lawns, and playground equipment.

WHAT DO PHYSICIANS SAY?

In 2015, scores of physicians and scientists formed Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks, or TENDR. Their aim was to identify “neurodevelopmentally toxic” chemicals.

“Based on the available scientific evidence,” the group wrote, “the TENDR authors have identified prime examples of toxic chemicals and pollutants that increase children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Organophosphate pesticides made the top of the list.

DOES THE EPA NOW THINK CHLORPYRIFOS IS SAFE?

Pruitt said the pesticide needed more time to be studied. He cited no new information saying it was safe.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” Pruitt said in a statement. “By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making — rather than predetermined results.”

WHO MAKES CHLORPYRIFOS?

One of the largest suppliers is Dow AgroSciences. Dow markets it under the brand name Lorsban® Advanced Insecticide. 

Last month, the Associated Press (AP) reported Dow lawyers asked government officials “to set aside” previous findings on chlorpyrifos, citing flawed studies.

Dow has close ties to the Trump administration. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural celebration, the AP reported. Andrew Liveris, Dow’s chairman and CEO, is an advisor to Trump.

In a statement, Dow representatives called the AP report misleading and inaccurate.

WHAT FOODS ARE SPRAYED WITH CHLORPYRIFOS?

Typical foods are apples, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, cherries, peaches, pears, corn, and wheat.

DO ALL FARMS USE CHLORPYRIFOS?

No. These area farms said they don’t use the pesticide:

  • 4 Corners Farm, Newbury, Vt. *
  • Blue Ox Farm, Enfield, N.H. *
  • Champlain Orchards, Shoreham, Vt. *
  • Crossroad Farm, Post Mills, Vt. *
  • Deep Meadow, Ascutney, Vt. *
  • Edgewater Farm, Plainfield, N.H. *
  • Glacial Grooves, Etna, N.H. *
  • Killdeer Farm, Norwich, Vt. *
  • Long Wind Farm, East Thetford, Vt. *
  • Luna Bleu Farm, Royalton, Vt. *
  • MacLennan Farm, Windsor, Vt. *
  • Pete’s Greens, Craftsbury, Vt. *
  • Pierson Farm, Bradford, Vt. * 
  • RT 5 Farm, Fairlee, Vt. * 
  • Spring Ledge Farm, New London, N.H. *
  • Sunny Brook Farm, Sharon, Vt. *
  • Sunrise Organic Farm, White River Junction, Vt. *
  • Sweetland Farm, Norwich, Vt.
  • Walhowdon Farm, Lebanon, N.H. *

The list above is not exhaustive.

Pooh and Ray Sprague, Edgewater Farm, Plainfield, N.H. “We do not use any pesticides with chlorpyrifos in them,” Pooh Sprague said. Top photo: Anne and Pooh Sprague.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group, has filed an appeal asking courts to intervene and order the EPA to ban the pesticide. Lawmakers in California may also challenge the EPA.

“Farmworkers, who are predominantly poor and the majority are people of color, bear the brunt of poisonings from chlorpyrifos,” Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice, said in a statement. “EPA must swiftly move forward on the path to environmental justice and ban all uses of chlorpyrifos.”

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Are you an Upper Valley farm that doesn’t use chlorpyrifos? Let us know so we can add you to our list. Email me: kdavis AT coopfoodstore DOT com. Our Co-op’s vision is a well-nourished community cultivated through cooperation. Learn more about us on our website or at DailyUV

✱ These farms are Co-op suppliers. 

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis

Ken is a writer in the Co-op Outreach Department. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.