Science & Environment

Federal court: EPA must ban controversial pesticide or prove it’s safe

By Monica Samayoa (OPB)
April 30, 2021 12:39 a.m.

A federal appeals court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to either ban the use of an increasingly controversial pesticide on fruits, vegetables and other edible crops within 60 days, or determine that it is safe for use.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in an opinion issued Thursday that the agency’s only alternative to banning the use of chlorpyrifos is to limit and modify its use while proving the pesticide will cause no harmful health effects from those who experience acute exposure, including children and infants.


Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide mainly used in Oregon on Christmas trees, leafy greens crops and alfalfa. Tree fruit orchards in Washington are also heavy users. Its use has been linked to harmful effects on the human body, including memory loss and verbal comprehension. It’s also been associated with developmental problems in children who have been exposed. Farmworkers and those who live near farms where the pesticide is used have also testified about health effects they have experienced from exposure.

Related: A Toxic Pesticide Once Targeted For A Ban Was Probably Sprayed On Your Christmas Tree

Thursday’s ruling comes after 2017 and 2019 decisions by the Trump administration overruling appeals to not ban the pesticide. Oregon lawmakers have also delayed efforts to ban chlorpyrifos at the state level, failing to move a bill to the governor’s desk in two legislative sessions after Republicans walked out to prevent voting on bills they didn’t like. One of those failed bills would have phased out and ultimately banned the pesticide by 2022.


Separately, an advisory committee created by the Oregon Department of Agriculture was tasked last year with considering limits and potential alternatives for the pesticide while also protecting public health and safety. In December, the agency announced it would begin to limit the use of chlorpyrifos and ban nearly all its uses by 2023.

Nationally, environmental groups are calling this decision a long-overdue, science-based ruling.

The Oregon Farm Bureau, which has opposed an outright ban against chlorpyrifos use without an effective alternative, said it is reviewing the decision and focusing on how to move forward with Oregon Department of Agriculture’s approach.

Related: This pesticide poisons kids, but it's still sprayed on Washington orchards

“Given that Oregon has already significantly limited use of the product and will prohibit most uses by the end of 2023, OFB is focused on helping our growers fund research into alternative products that they can use for crops and pests where no alternative pesticide currently exists,” an emailed statement said. “We are strongly advocating for our state to invest resources into funding research for those alternatives during this legislative session, and that remains our focus moving forward.”

Early last year, one of the nation’s largest chlorpyrifos producers, Corteva Agriscience, said it would phase out manufacturing of the pesticide by the end of 2020.

ODA is currently reviewing the federal decision.

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