Chlorpyrifos pesticide dangers have been well documented for decades. The insecticide came into widespread use in 1965 as a replacement for DDT, and since then has been sprayed on everything from asparagus and apples to corn, soy and citrus fruits.
But this week, the Biden administration announced it is banning the pesticide for all food use due to its links to neurological damage in children.
The newly established rule will go into effect in six months.
The hasty move to ban the neurologically damaging chemical comes in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s refusal to ban chlorpyrifos, despite the well-established science on its dangers to children’s brains. (The original ban on chlorpyrifos was initiated by the Obama administration, which had sought to outlaw the use of chlorpyrifos as a pesticide on food crops, but was blocked by Trump’s EPA.)
Common pesticides have been shown to raise the risk for disease in children, including ADHD. Let’s take a look at how decades of widespread use have impacted millions of children’s neurological health.
What Is Chlorpyrifos?
Dow Chemical Company introduced chlorpyrifos, also known as Lorsban, as a pesticide in 1965. It was originally developed as organophosphorus gas in Nazi Germany. Commercially, it’s also known as Dursban, Bolton Insecticide, Nufos, Cobalt, Hatchet, Warhawk and used in household products, including Raid Ant & Roach Killer, among others. Also, in some countries, veterinarians prescribe it in flea killer prescriptions.
So, what is chlorpyrifos? It’s a pesticide that’s used in about 100 countries. The Bush administration banned indoor use of this nerve agent. However, it’s still widely used outdoors today on U.S. crops like broccoli, strawberries and citrus. It’s also widely used on golf courses and included in other products, such as products used to treat wood and utility poles.
Dangers of Chlorpyrifos
Make no mistake, chlorpyrifos affects humans and animals, including children and pets, just like it does the pests it’s intended to kill. In fact, chlorpyrifos is known to be dangerous to fish and wildlife, including ducks and aquatic wildlife. Exposure in humans to small amounts of this chemical can cause runny nose, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and even more seriously, vomiting, abdominal muscle cramps, difficulty breathing and paralysis.
The EPA’s own analysis of this dangerous chemical showed that not only is it dangerous to wildlife and the environment, it can also affect the nervous system and brains of developing fetuses and children.
Yet, Dow AgroSciences, makers of the chemical, tried to kill the study. Dow contributed $1 million dollars to the Trump inaugural committee. Dow also spent $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016.
Will action on other pesticides linked to health problems also be banned?
10 Ways to Avoid Dangerous Pesticides
So what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones and pets from these dangerous pesticides? It may seem daunting to avoid these chemicals, but there are at least 10 things you can do to cut down your family’s exposure to chlorpyrifos and other chemicals.
But make no mistake, without better regulation based on the best health studies, it will be impossible to fully avoid these harmful compounds, since they are so widespread.
1. Eat organic locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Buy organic, local food as much as possible. And remember, avoiding all types of ultra-processed foods will help clean up your diet.
2. Wash fruits and vegetables with a solution of mild dish soap diluted with water (1 teaspoon dish soap per gallon).
Then rinse with lukewarm water. Or, rinse produce under running water and scrub firm fruits and vegetables like melons and potatoes. Remove the outer layer of leafy vegetables, like cabbage or lettuce. Peel fruits and vegetables when possible. Doing this can reduce some residual pesticides, but understand that many pesticides are systemic and actually taken up inside of the food.
3. Know which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are exposed to more pesticides and contain higher levels of pesticide residue.
Check the dirty dozen list to know which fruits and vegetables to be sure to buy organic to avoid chemical pesticides.
4. Grow your own produce using organic methods.
Growing your own produce allows you to control the environmental conditions, including soil and use of safe pesticides and fertilizers. Follow sustainable landscaping practices to cut down on chemicals, improve health benefits, save money over time and protect the environment.
5. Use non-toxic pest control products.
Rather than chemical pesticides, use detergent pesticides, such as Safers. I highly recommend that you try neem oil, which is a naturally occurring pesticide. Also, try traps with natural chemicals (pheromones) to attract pests.
6. Leave your shoes by the door.
Removing your shoes when you come in the house helps to cut down on pesticides, fertilizers and dirt tracked through your home.
7. Protect children and pets.
If you do use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers, be sure to use these products appropriately. Keep children and pets away from treated lawns. Do not use pesticides indoors. Never spray pesticides on a windy day.
8. Store pesticides carefully.
Do not store pesticides or other chemicals in a soda bottle or other food container. Children may not understand that the contents are dangerous. Make sure to store pesticides out of the reach of children.
9. Choose plants suited to your area and use proper cultivation methods.
Mulching and picking bugs off plants are two examples of pest control methods that don’t require chemicals. But be sure you buy good-quality mulch. Also, there are helpful insects such as ladybugs and praying mantises that eat some pests.
10. Eat only organic, grass-fed beef and other organic, antibiotic-free meats.
What an animal eats moves up the food chain. If an animal has eaten contaminated grass or feed, you are essentially eating those same contaminants when you eat the animal. Eating organic, grass-fed beef helps ensure that you are not exposing yourself or your family to these chemicals. Also, be sure to trim the fat and skin from meat as pesticides and other chemical residue can accumulate in fat.
It may be scary to learn that dangerous chemicals like chlorpyrifos are used on our food crops. Thankfully, after decades of use, it will finally be “retired” from the food system. This is a huge victory, for sure, but there are still other harmful pesticides on the market.
Here are steps you can take to limit your family’s exposure to other dangerous chemicals. Here are a few reminders of some simple, quick steps you can take:
- Buy organic when you can, especially local produce.
- Grow your own produce if possible.
- Use non-toxic pesticides (like neem oil) and fertilizers.
- Wash fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t wear your shoes in the house.
- Make sure to store pesticides in appropriate containers out of children’s reach.
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