After passage in the House of Delegates by more than a 2 to 1 margin, it was held from a vote in the Senate, delaying a decision on eliminating a pesticide shown to be toxic to children, and especially to unborn babies. For some of the more than 70,000 children born in Maryland this year, there will be potential exposure to a known neurotoxin and a continued risk of irreversible harm. Multiple studies on exposures to chlorpyrifos have linked it to a host of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, lower IQs, poorer working memory and delayed motor skills.
This toxic pesticide can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. It is applied to many fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, and residues are found on produce eaten frequently by young children, including peaches, apples, grapes and strawberries. It can enter drinking water as runoff from treated farms and golf courses. Drift from aerial spraying has been found to have effects nearly a mile from its source.
Chlorpyrifos was banned from home use in 2000, when its toxic effects were already becoming apparent. After extensive review of additional studies in the following years, EPA scientists concluded that there was no safe level of exposure and recommended a ban on all uses of chlorpyrifos late in 2016. Unfortunately, the newly-appointed EPA administrator ignored the advice of these scientists and overturned the proposed ban in March, 2017, which led several states, including Maryland, to attempt to pass bills to ban it locally. A federal circuit court ordered the EPA to enforce the ban on chlorpyrifos last year, but that decision is currently under appeal.
Less toxic alternatives exist to chlorpyrifos, and many Maryland farms, orchards and golf courses do not use it. While we await legislative and judicial remedies, such information should be made widely available. However, the need to protect children from preventable disabilities and developmental impairment still has to be a legislative priority locally and nationally.