Toughen rules on use of chlorpyrifos
Shortly before the Trump presidency, the agriculture industry was bracing for an expected ban on use of chlorpyrifos — a widely used insecticide.
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Shortly before the Trump presidency, the agriculture industry was bracing for an expected ban on use of chlorpyrifos — a widely used insecticide. The Obama administration had announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for residue of the chemical on food, a move that effectively would have ended its use.
But that direction was reversed last spring when newly installed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order allowing unabated use. Some states, Hawaii included, are now considering state bans.
If Senate Bill 3095 continues to make progress at the state Capitol, ours would be among the first states to outlaw chlorpyrifos, a spray staple in the U.S. for a half-century that’s now linked to nerve system damage in children. The bill, which would also impose stepped-up transparency and buffer zone requirements on agricultural businesses that use substantial amounts of restricted-use pesticides, effectively phases out use of chlorpyrifos over the next few years.
In the islands, the handling of pesticides is a contentious and emotionally charged issue. And in this case, bill supporters and opponents make compelling points.
Some farm-focused groups argue that a state ban in advance of federal action would be costly. Local farmers would be forced to pour time and money into other pest-control options, giving mainland farmers still using chlorpyrifos an economic advantage.
Supporters persuasively counter that well-respected scientific studies have found that any exposure on foods, in drinking water, and from pesticide drift is unsafe. Chlorpyrifos has been banned from consumer products for more than 15 years, and studies suggest it can impair cognitive development in children whose mothers lived near spray sites during pregnancy.
What’s indisputable is that Hawaii’s current handling of the chemical is flat-out unacceptable. For starters, this highly toxic stuff is available to anyone. The state licenses 21 pesticide products containing chlorpyrifos, 12 of which have food uses. The others are for uses such as pest-control at tree plantations and golf courses.
However, in a long overdue step in the right direction, the state Department of Agriculture is in the process of reclassifying chlorpyrifos as a restricted-use pesticide, which would limit use to state-certified applicators. Proposed restrictions, which aim to mirror what California has done in recent years, such as tightening buffer-
zone requirements, are slated to be finalized by this summer.
California now bans the use of chlorpyrifos near schools and other facilities when winds exceed 10 mph. And so should Hawaii. The Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action has pointed out that at least 27 schools across the state are located within one mile of fields tied to pesticide drift.
On March 29, 2017, when the EPA’s Pruitt denied the move to outlaw chlorpyrifos, the order he signed stated that “despite several years of study, the science addressing the neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved” and will attempt “to come to a clearer scientific resolution” by Oct. 1, 2022. Scott Enright, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture, has maintained that any across-the-board ban at the state level — before a final EPA decision — would be premature.
However, what’s intolerable would be a four-year wait without Hawaii putting into place much tougher restrictions. Further, Enright has noted that chlorpyrifos sales here have decreased in recent years. That sounds encouraging. The state should follow up by assessing the economic impact of a full ban.
While the fate of SB 3095 is still foggy, what’s clear is that regardless of political shifts in Washington, D.C., Hawaii must not delay the effort to set and enforce chlorpyrifos-related protections that prioritize health and safety.