Even if you’ve never heard of chlorpyrifos, you’ve probably come in contact with it on your food. This common pesticide has been on the market since 1965 and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 5.1 million pounds of the chemical have been used on American crops like vegetables, corn, soybeans, cotton, and fruit trees. This is about to change however as the EPA has officially banned the use of chlorpyrifos after years of advocacy from environmental and health groups.
Why is chlorpyrifos being banned?
Like many other pesticides, chlorpyrifos works by blocking an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. This in turn causes insects to die. Unfortunately, it is also toxic to humans. It was banned in indoor pest control use in 1996, but due to extensive previous use and use in agriculture, 75 percent of people in the US have trace amounts of chlorpyrifos in their bodies.
Multiple studies have linked the chemical to neurodevelopmental delays, especially in children. Exposures are particularly dangerous for farmers and agricultural workers who have higher levels of exposure.
California and the European Union banned chlorpyrifos in 2020, but lobbying from chemical companies slowed a federal ban in the US. Extensive awareness campaigns and activism from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network have finally pushed the EPA to enact a complete ban on chlorpyrifos on August 18, 2021. The agency says the ban will go into effect in six months.