Environmental Justice: On Kauai, Chlorpyrifos Puts Children At Risk

Dr. Lee A. Evslin, M.D. and Board Certified Pediatrician 

Dr. Lee A. Evslin, M.D. and Board Certified Pediatrician 

“The risk to infant and children’s health and development is unambiguous.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been vocal in articulating the dangers of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Their warnings bear repeating. The scientific committees of the AAP set policy for American pediatricians. Their recommendations often set standards for pediatric care around the world. This organization consists of 66,000 pediatricians, pediatric medical specialists and pediatric surgical specialists.

The AAP and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) wrote last month to Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), describing the dangers of pesticides, and of chlorpyrifos specifically. They stated that they were “deeply alarmed” that Scott Pruitt had overridden the EPA’s own recommendation to ban the use of chlorpyrifos on all food crops. They said that Pruitt’s decision “contradicts the agency’s own science and puts developing fetuses, infants, children and pregnant women at risk.”

The EPA, under the Obama administration, proposed to ban chlorpyrifos in November 2015, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (right) reversed that decision last March.

The EPA, under the Obama administration, proposed to ban chlorpyrifos in November 2015, but EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (right) reversed that decision last March.

The AAP further describes how: “Children are uniquely vulnerable to risks from pesticides.… By size and weight children drink more, breathe more, and have more skin surface area to body weight relative to adults, making their body more sensitive to pesticides … Their brains and nervous systems are still making connections and maturing, processes that are particularly sensitive to interference by pesticides.”

Columbia University studies show that the higher the exposure of unborn fetuses (as measured by levels of chlorpyrifos in cord blood), the further behind these children were in both motor and mental development by age three. Children born to women exposed to chlorpyrifos “were also five times more likely to be on the autism spectrum, greater than six times more likely to have ADHD-type symptoms and greater than eleven times more likely to have symptoms of other attention disorders.”

Similar findings of lower IQs with prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos were found in studies by the University of California, Berkeley, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dismissing these studies and calling the very real findings about chlorpyrifos “junk science,” as syndicated columnist Angela Logomasini recently did, is highly irresponsible.

The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) explicitly states that the EPA must revoke permitted pesticide tolerances “if it determines those levels are no longer safe.” The EPA has estimated that median or typical exposures through food for babies, toddlers and pregnant women is 5-15 times higher than its proposed “safe” intake. “The EPA’s own calculations suggest that babies, children, and pregnant women all eat much more chlorpyrifos than is safe,” the AAP letter said. “EPA has consistently found that chlorpyrifos is not safe particularly in regard to in-utero exposures and exposures to children.”

At least seven states have decided to call for the banning of chlorpyrifos. Hawaii should show similar leadership and join those states in establishing a ban on its use here.

At least seven states have decided to call for the banning of chlorpyrifos. Hawaii should show similar leadership and join those states in establishing a ban on its use here.

In December 2014, the EPA found unsafe drinking water contamination from chlorpyrifos. In October 2015, EPA proposed to revoke all tolerances (meaning use on crops meant for food) because it could not prove that aggregate exposure would be safe. In November 2016 the EPA did another risk assessment and found that the “risks were even greater than previously thought and reiterated the need to revoke tolerances.” The AAP’s letter concluded: “The risk to infant and children’s health and development is unambiguous.”

On Kauai, chlorpyrifos is the second most heavily sprayed restricted-use pesticide. More than 3,000 pounds were used in a recent 18-month period by five large agricultural companies. Unborn fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women residing in communities where chlorpyrifos is sprayed for agriculture may also be at higher risk. The EPA has also stated that 97 percent of endangered species are likely to be adversely affected by the standard use of chlorpyrifos.

At least seven states have decided to call for the banning of chlorpyrifos. Hawaii should show similar leadership and join those states in establishing a ban on its use here.


This post is reblogged by kind permission of the Honolulu Star Advertiser where it first appeared as an opinion editorial in the Island Voices section on August 2, 2017.

On July 25, 2017 Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA) , Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) unveiled a first-of-its-kind bill—The Protect Children, Farmers & Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act, S. 1624—that would ban chlorpyrifos.