Maryland has taken several important steps over the past couple of years to protect our state and its residents from the harmful decisions of the Trump administration. Another crucial step we must take: ban chlorpyrifos, a toxic nerve agent pesticide proven to cause brain damage in children and known to harm the environment and wildlife.
In 2017, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the unprecedented action of overturning its own proposed ban on chlorpyrifos. This decision defied the EPA’s own scientists, who had studied the pesticide for decades and confirmed that there is no level of chlorpyrifos in our food and water that can be considered safe. They recommended that all agricultural uses of the pesticide be terminated. (It was banned for consumer home use in 2000.)
Chlorpyrifos is extremely harmful. Research shows that prenatal exposures are associated with reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention deficit disorders and delayed motor development. It is also linked to adverse birth and developmental outcomes, including pre-term birth, low birth weight, congenital abnormalities, autism spectrum disorders, pediatric cancers, neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits and asthma. The American Association of Pediatrics said, in supporting the ban, the “EPA has no basis to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, and its insistence in doing so puts all children at risk.”
Unfortunately, chlorpyrifos is widely used across the United States on fruits, vegetables, nuts and other conventionally grown crops, including many kid favorites like apples, peaches, grapes and strawberries. It is the fourth most prevalent pesticide in our food supply according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). People are exposed when they consume sprayed food or contaminated drinking water, touch treated crops or breathe the air near treated fields.
It can harm wildlife and our Chesapeake Bay as well. A Chesapeake Bay Program report found chlorpyrifos in 90 percent of bay water samples analyzed for this chemical, and 40 percent of those had concentrations that exceeded thresholds indicating possible ecological effects. Last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that adult and juvenile Atlantic sturgeon, which are endangered, are at a high risk from exposure to chlorpyrifos because concentrations of the chemical would reduce their spawning productivity. Research also shows that chlorpyrifos is second only to neonicotinoids as the most harmful pesticide to bees.
Why would the Trump administration reverse course on banning a chemical that is so dangerous? It is no secret that the administration, including former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and current Administrator Andrew Wheeler, are close to industry lobbyists, making policy decisions to boost profits and prevent regulation, often at the expense of the health and well-being of citizens and the environment.
This is unacceptable, but thankfully our Attorney General Brian Frosh joined several other attorneys general to sue the EPA for its decision on chlorpyrifos. In response, a federal court ruled last August that the EPA must ban chlorpyrifos, saying the agency could not justify its decision to reverse the ban. Not surprisingly, the EPA has since appealed and will likely continue to tie this issue up in the courts for months, or years, to come. Protecting our children’s health cannot wait, especially when we know that there are many alternative products on the market that take care of the same pests that chlorpyrifos targets.
That’s why we are introducing a bill to ban chlorpyrifos in our state this legislative session in Annapolis, and we urge our colleagues to support it. Regardless of who is in the White House, the General Assembly has often taken the lead in passing common-sense policies to protect children and families and to safeguard our environment.
We clearly cannot count on the Trump administration to protect us, and we cannot rely on the courts to sort out this issue quickly. We are proud to fight for this protection for all Marylanders, and we hope our colleagues in the General Assembly and Gov. Larry Hogan will do the same by joining us to ban chlorpyrifos.
Del. Dana Stein represents Baltimore County (District 11) and is vice chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee; his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam represents District 44 in Baltimore city and county and is vice chair of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee; her email is email@example.com.