As a bill to phase out and ultimately ban chlorpyrifos moves forward to the House floor for a vote, some legislators argued Thursday that lawmakers should not determine whether to phase out the pesticide and said the decision should be left to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide mainly used on Christmas trees, leafy greens, and alfalfa. Its use has been linked to harmful effects to the human body.

During Thursday’s House Committee on Health Care work session, House Republican Leader Christine Drazan introduced amendments to House Bill 4109. The amendments would have continued to give the Oregon Department of Agriculture regulatory power over the pesticide. It would have also not phased out use of the pesticide. The amendment failed to pass by vote.

Drazan said the bill is a misfit for the Health Care Committee and expressed concerns about the continued process of the bill. 

“For me it’s really an issue around process. This particular bill is directly impacted, it’s a highly regulated topic and we have an agency that regulates it because it is hazardous,” Drazan said.

“Typically, those agency bills, they fall in a particular committee, and it is that part of it that I find surprising. I tend to think process-wise you get better outcomes when the people begin to get familiar and have a depth of knowledge and experience.”

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has created a chlorpyrifos work group committee that’s focused on creating restrictions on the pesticide to protect public health and safety. The group is made up of 12 members which include experts and leaders from agriculture, environmental justice groups, a toxicologist and farmworker health and safety organizations. But during the public hearing, the panel noted there is no one from the Oregon Health Authority.

Vice Chair Representative Cedric Hayden said he was disappointed the committee did not adopt the amendments put forward by Drazan. He expressed the same concern about the Health Care Committee ultimately overruling the ODA when it already has a task force.   

But Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon said the committee heard from doctors during the hearing who shared how the pesticide could affect the human body.

“There is a lot of science that has proved that there are many dangers of this particular pesticide and I really appreciated the doctors who came in and spoke against the dangers of this pesticide and how it impacts young children and babies in the womb,” Alonso Leon said. “I just want to remind folks of the powerful testimonies that were presented the other day and that it is a healthcare issue.”

During the public hearing, lawmakers heard emotional testimony about the health effects of chlorpyrifos from farm workers and people who live near farms where the pesticide is used.

Carmen Gonzales testified about working in fields and mixing chemicals while she was pregnant. She said nobody told her not to handle the chemicals and that farm workers aren’t aware how it affects their health. She lost her baby after feeling very ill.

“I went to the hospital and was sent home and told to eat ice cream to get the baby to move…. Weeks later after work I once again felt very ill. I felt my stomach very hard and I had a very high fever,” Gonzales said.

She was sent home again, as she recalls the hospital did not want to take her in and finally a friend accompanied her on a second trip to the hospital that same day. She was told she lost her baby and believes it was because she was mixing chemicals while pregnant.

During the public hearing, chief sponsor of the bill and Rep. Paul Holvey said more needs to be done to protect those who come in contact with the pesticide.

He said while it pains him to take tools away from farmers, it’s more painful to stand by and let exposure to farm workers and those in close contact continue to happen.

“There was evidence at the last meeting in 2019 in my committee, that people were being sprayed and physically harmed and livestock was being killed and you know you think that would raise enough red flags for our state to do something about it,” Holvey said.

Later, Rep. Shelley Boshart Davis, an opponent of the bill, said state legislators do not have the right resources to determine whether to phase out and ban chlorpyrifos. She said by taking away the pesticide from farmers, they would risk losing up to 70% of crops or they would be unable to export them to other countries.

“We also recognize the legislator many times lacks the ability to make fully informed decisions about specific technologies and products, we are not scientists…without a broad understanding of products available to growers and consumers and potential alternatives and tradeoffs, we risk doing as much harm as good in picking preferred products…” Boshart Davis said. 

The bill now moves to the House Floor for vote sometime next week. 

“I am pleased that HB 4109, passed out of the House Health Care Committee,” Rep. Andrea Salinas said.

“The Republican members of the committee introduced amendments, and I appreciate their thoughtful engagement on this issue. Ultimately, I believe we passed the strongest version of the bill out of committee, and I am confident it will pass.”