Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

This pesticide is unsafe for children, scientists say, but feds won’t ban it

The Environmental Protection Agency has said they will not ban an insecticide widely used on farms and orchards, including in Washington state.

This comes after recommendations from EPA scientists last year to ban the chemical in question, a pesticide called chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos was banned years ago for use in most household products.

In recent years, environmental groups have been petitioning to have it removed from agricultural use too. They say it can harm children.

Late last year, EPA scientists made the same recommendation, but the new head of the agency says there are holes in the research.

Northwest Earth Justice attorney Patty Goldman said that decision is outrageous.

"It was an outrageous decision. EPA's required to ban pesticides if they're not safe for children. And EPA has said repeatedly that this pesticide is not safe. It cannot make the safety finding."

Goldman said exposure to chlorpyrifos — through drift from spraying, residue on food or ground water contamination — can cause developmental issues in children.  

She's working with a team to take the case back to the courts, but for now people will continue to use it, including some Washington apple growers.

Elizabeth Beers is an entomology professor at Washington State University. She deals with insects that interact with fruit trees. She said chlorpyrifos use is restricted and has been declining at local orchards, but it's still a useful tool.

"While we would prefer to use a biological control, or very selective pesticides, or non-pesticidal tactics for everything, sometimes that plan just doesn't completely come together and there are some holes in it. And chlorpyrifos helps plug a few of those holes."

Beers said it's likely that chlorpyrifos will be phased out as growers turn to newer pesticides, but environmental groups say the chemical won't go away without regulation.

Year started with KUOW: 2015