In 2017, the United States attempted to protect our children by banning a harmful chemical called chlorpyrifos, but failed to enact the law. Now we are again in a position to make the world a healthier place for our children with state bill SB458 and the reintroduction of S921 to the Senate. This issue is particularly relevant on the Central Coast where we grow the nation’s food.
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide that has been linked to developmental delays, decreased IQ and learning disabilities. Organophosphate compounds were initially created as a human nerve gas agent in the 1930s and 40s and were later adapted at lower doses to be insecticides. People are primarily exposed to this chemical through their work in agricultural fields, but also via consumption of foods that have been sprayed with the chemical, and through pesticide drift into neighborhoods bordering agricultural areas. Thus, this dangerous chemical finds its way into both farm and non-farm homes dispersing far from the area of application. Even children that live far from potential chemical drift exposure can be exposed to chlorpyrifos from residue found on common Californian produce such as oranges, broccoli, almonds, strawberries, grapes and apples.
Chlorpyrifos has been found in both dust and drinking water; it leaves a residue on counters, shelves, floors, shoes, clothes, toys and on the surface of children’s hands (Nankongnab, Noppanun, et al. “Pesticide Residues in Soil, Water, Indoor Home Surface and Children’s Hands.” ISEE Conference Abstracts. Vol. 2018. No. 1. 2018). This is why nothing short of an all out chlorpyrifos ban will keep our children and the future of our community safe. The Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) study has been following mothers and children in the Salinas area for 20 years, in 2018 they released policy recommendations to gradually eliminate organophosphate exposure to humans, increase safety education for farmworkers and their families and increase usage of integrative pest management.
SB458, the Protect Children from Brain-Damaging Chlorpyrifos Act of 2019, is a California bill introduced by Senator Durazo that would make chlorpyrifos illegal in California. The bill was heard in the first committee hearing on April 10th, amended and passed on to the committee of Environmental Quality. At the federal level, a bill to prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos on food, and to prohibit the registration of pesticides containing chlorpyrifos (S921), was introduced to Congress by Senator Udall on March 28, 2019. This bill is awaiting to be heard in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
Bans on chlorpyrifos are supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and the Children’s Health Researchers. The EPA’s recent assessment found residues on fruits and vegetables 140 times over the acceptable exposure levels in children and contaminated air and water in agricultural communities in California.
In any community, nothing is more important than the health of our children. Each day parents safeguard the future by making sacrifices and informed decisions to ensure the holistic wellbeing of their kids. When the environment itself poses an uncontrollable and dangerous threat through invisible chemicals in the air, food, soil and water, we must rally together to change policy and fight for our children and our community’s future. We have a real opportunity at hand to make those recommendations a reality. We urge you to show your support for SB458 and S921 by contacting your local representative (findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov).
Authors Irene Graham, Janet Miller, Kristie Dhakal, Elsy Hernandez and Sara Housman are graduate students at San Jose State University studying Public Health. They can be reached at [email protected]