A blog by Lisa Arkin
This group photo includes those from throughout the state who came to testify on behalf of a phase-out of chlorpyrifos in February 2020 in the Oregon legislature. The testimony was organized by Beyond Toxics and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste's (PCUN). The group gathered included Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego (middle; grey suit) and Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn (to her left) and Honor LaBarge, a cancer survivor and his parents (front row) who testified for the phase-out.
In 2020, Oregon became the 4th state to phase-out the organophosphate insecticide, chlorpyrifos. This law came about as a result of a 2-year legislative campaign led by Beyond Toxics to ban the use of chlorpyrifos. We fought for a complete ban, and we knew a phase-out was not enough.
Today we celebrate the EPA’s August 18th decision to END the use of chlorpyrifos on all food crops, a ban that will also apply to Oregon. The EPA found that there are no safe levels of chlorpyrifos in food or in drinking water, so they are cancelling registered uses on food crops.
Our long-standing conviction that no one should be exposed to a chemical originally used as a warfare nerve gas compelled us to take action here in Oregon. Repurposed as an agricultural chemical by Dow Chemical, people are exposed to chlorpyrifos by inhaling or absorbing pesticide drift, by drinking water containing chlorpyrifos or by eating fruits and vegetables with toxic residues. (Washing fruits and vegetables doesn’t necessarily remove these residues.)
The EPA made its decision based on substantial evidence linking children exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb with reduced IQ, attention disorders, and autism. Research has also associated Chlorpyrifos with cancer risk.
Our campaign to ban chlorpyrifos in Oregon was based on clear evidence of the extreme dangers from pesticide exposure. Farmworkers are routinely hospitalized with nausea and dizziness from chlorpyrifos exposure, yet they often under report poisonings for fear of retaliation from their employers. High exposures can cause respiratory paralysis, even death. Their families are at risk, too, because pesticides like chlorpyrifos cling to clothes and come home with workers.
Oregon’s rural families living near farms face the risk of exposures when the wind carries toxic drift into homes or schools. You may remember the heartbreaking story we shared of a rural Oregon family whose property was hit with spray drift from a helicopter spraying chlorpyrifos on Christmas trees in July 2019. Their youngest son, Honor, who was playing outside became very ill that day. Within months, this eight-year old boy was diagnosed with a rare, invasive cancer, likely linked to organophosphate exposure. An investigation by the Oregon Department of Agriculture found that chlorpyrifos drifted onto their property from the Christmas tree spraying.
During the public hearings on the chlorpyrifos phase out, held by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, dozens of farm workers testified about their experience working in fields or Christmas tree farms that are sprayed with chlorpyrifos. They reported miscarriages, nausea and dizziness, severe headaches, bloody noses, sore throats, trouble breathing and debilitating fatigue.
Children and farm workers are not alone in facing the risks from chlorpyrifos exposure. This pesticide is labeled as "highly toxic" to bees and butterflies and is known to build up in the tissues of fish and aquatic insects, poisoning animals up the food chain. It is thus deadly for birds who may eat these same aquatic insects.
We should take a moment to celebrate! The work we did--in partnership with Earthjustice and Oregon’s farmworker groups--is work that we can be proud of. Both our grassroots and policy work in Oregon helped bring about the end of an old warfare chemical masquerading as a “safe product” for growing food! We know that the workers who bring food to our tables, pregnant mothers, infants and the toddlers were NEVER safe from chlorpyrifos until it was banned. We can’t win the battle to stop hazardous pesticides if we don’t win on the policy front - policy is the driver because those who are invested in the economic profit of selling poisons simply promise us “just trust us, we’ll take care of it by following the label and you’ll be fine.” We trust science, not money-driven empty speeches.
Change is not something we hope for, but we do! We are bringing about pesticide regulations truly based on an environmental justice framework.
Banning chlorpyrifos is the right decision and is a tremendous victory for farm workers and families in Oregon and across the nation!
Lisa Arkin, Executive Director