In honor of Cesar Chavez’s birthday, the Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety (CAPS) held a press conference in Visalia regarding banning chlorpyrifos. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed a ban on a pesticide linked to nervous system damage in children. Farmers are now allowed to use chlorpurifos which is sprayed on more than a dozen crops, the majority of which are found in the Central Valley.
The following speech was given by Caty Wagner, MPA during the press conference.
In the old days, miners would carry birds with them to warn against poison gas. Hopefully, the birds would die before the miners. Farm workers are society’s canaries. Farm workers-and their children-demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else.” This a quote from Cesar Chavez.
Today we honor Chavez on his birthday by carrying on his work. I am the Vice Chair of the Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety, (CAPS) and we are comprised of over a dozen Central Valley non-profits and many community leaders and residents. We are joined today by the ACLU, the Pesticide Action Network and the UFW. As Co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Cesar Chavez was also one of the world’s greatest leaders in the struggle for protection against health-harming pesticides. The first field worker protections from pesticides, including DDT, were created through UFW contracts with growers in the 1960s. Chavez’s last and longest fast of 36 days in 1988 was in protest of the use of pesticides.
CAPS formed in an effort to call on the state to create a one mile buffer zone around schools protecting them from the most restricted pesticides. With the help of thousands of community members and our partners around the state, we have made much progress. Chlorpyrifos is one of the most dangerous pesticides in use, and the EPA has made recommendations over the years that it should be banned. Under the new administration of president trump, and with new leadership at the EPA, science and evidence are taking a backseat to corporate greed. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Wednesday, March 29, that the EPA will not ban chlorpyrifos after all. If trump’s EPA refuses to protect the public from food contaminated with chlorpyrifos, and refuses to protect us here in the Central Valley from farm work, drift and water exposure to chlorpyrifos, then we implore Governor Jerry Brown to protect us. Governor Brown, you understand the value of science and evidence. You value the lives of Californians. We ask you to ban the use of chlorpyrifos in California.
What is Chlorpyrifos?
Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely used insecticides in the U.S. with 20 to 24 million pounds applied annually. Poisoning from chlorpyrifos may affect the central nervous, the cardiovascular, the respiratory systems as well as irritation to the skin and eyes. Two of the five pesticides Cesar Chavez was calling to ban in that 1988 fast were organophosphates like chlorpyrifos, which attack the nervous system.
More chlorpyrifos is used in California than in any other state in the nation. By 2000, the U.S. EPA had already concluded that chlorpyrifos exposure posed such significant and life-long health harms to children’s development that the agency phased out nearly all household uses of chlorpyrifos. But few restrictions were placed on its agricultural use. Since then, scientists at UC Berkeley and Columbia University have found a connection between prenatal chlorpyrifos exposure and children lagging in terms of motor and mental development. Children at age three who experienced higher prenatal exposures are more than:
• twice as likely to be mentally delayed, with lower IQs and deficits in working memory at age 7,
• five times as likely to have symptoms of autism,
• six times as likely to have ADHD-type symptoms, and
• 11 times as likely to have symptoms of other attention disorders.
UC Davis scientists’ research in California has indicated an association between increased autism rates and exposure to organophosphate pesticides, with the link between autism and chlorpyrifos the strongest. While the nationwide autism rate is now one in 68, for women who lived near fields where chlorpyrifos was applied during their second trimester, the chance of having a child with autism was closer to one in 21. That’s more than three times as likely. UC Berkeley’s CHAMACOS studies in the Salinas Valley have also found decreased lung function in 7-year olds whose mother’s were exposed to chlorpyrifos.
EPA’s November 2016 revised human health risk assessment took much of this new science into consideration, recognizing:
• Airborne chlorpyrifos levels measured near homes and schools in agricultural communities (many in California) were found to pose a risk to children and women of childbearing age.
• There is no safe amount of chlorpyrifos in drinking water because the food contamination alone presents risks of concern.
• All workers who mix and apply chlorpyrifos – including handlers, seed treatment and secondary seed treatment workers – are exposed to levels greater than what the EPA considers safe. That’s the case even with the maximum possible amount of protective clothing, equipment and engineering controls.
• No uses met the safety standard and therefore the revised assessment supported the proposed ban on food uses
Dow AgroSciences manufactures the most chlorpyrifos, marketed as Dursban and Lorsban. To give you a sense of the values and history of the company, Dow is involved in multiple lawsuits over their deliberate choice to pick profits over people. In decades past, they chose not to remove chemicals like 123 TCP from fumigants, which are still found in water in Visalia and throughout California. In 1972, Dow fed Dursban to inmates at Clinton Correctional Institute, New York, to assess its effects on humans. In 1995, Dow was fined $732,000 for not sending the EPA reports it had received on 249 Dursban poisoning incidents. In 2003, Dow agreed to pay $2 million – the largest penalty ever in a pesticide case – to the state of New York, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General to end Dow’s illegal advertising of Dursban as “safe”.
EPA & Chlorpyrifos Policy
The US EPA announced last November that it intended to revoke all tolerances of chlorpyrifos, calling it unsafe to use in any amount. Underscoring the importance of this proposed ban, the agency cited the serious dangers of chlorpyrifos and added that young children risk exposure from food residues alone that are 14,000 percent higher than the level EPA currently believes is safe. In December 2016, President-elect Trump picked Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris to head the American Manufacturing Council. The US EPA continues to face many cutbacks and policy changes under the new administration. We will likely see devastating policy changes regarding pesticides under the REINS Act, which makes it more difficult to pass safety regulations on chemicals like pesticides and pharmaceuticals. This act was supported by our own Congressmen Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy. While some of the most compelling research on recommendations against chlorpyrifos was conducted by the EPA, sadly, this Wednesday, they announced that they would not ban chlorpyrifos. Head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt chose to ignore data and choose profits for companies like Dow AgroSciences over the health of the residents of Ag communities.
Cesar Chavez said, “What, then, is the effect of pesticides? Pesticides have created a legacy of pain, and misery, and death for farm workers and consumers alike …These pesticides soak the fields. Drift with the wind, pollute the water, and are eaten by unwitting consumers. These poisons are designed to kill, and pose a very real threat to consumers and farm workers alike” (1990).
A Call to Action
If Trump’s EPA will not ban chlorpyrifos, California must. We believe it is unconscionable, and in violation of civil rights laws, to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos on California fields despite the overwhelming body of scientific literature indicating its dangers to human health and the environment. We are now turning to California Governor Jerry Brown to take action. In a letter seeking Governor Brown’s intervention on chlorpyrifos, the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform said: “We have been heartened by the stand taken by you and the California legislature to ‘lead the resistance’ to the Trump administration’s predilection to rely on alternative facts, ignore science, and eliminate regulations intended to protect the public’s health, safety and environment, and we’re asking your administration now to live up to that promise and implement EPA’s proposed ban on food uses in California.” When president trump was elected, Governor Brown said, “We’re ready to fight climate change and protect research towards climate” Governor Brown, the people of the Central Valley call on you for protection.
Señor Chavez said, “If we ignored pesticide poisoning, if we looked on as farm workers and their children are stricken, then all the other injustices our people face would be compounded by an even more deadly tyranny” (1989).
We have faced that injustice for far too long. Chavez’s fight didn’t end with him; it is up to us to end the tyranny.