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Food | Health | Agriculture | Flora and Fauna | Environment

Farmworker Groups Seek Ban On Pesticide


A ripening green apple hangs low on a tree Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Milton-Freewater, Ore. 

A ripening green apple hangs low on a tree Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010, in Milton-Freewater, Ore. 

Matthew B. Zimmerman/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin/AP

Farmworker advocacy groups are pushing for a ban on a pesticide known to damage the nervous system, which they say poses an unacceptable risk to farmworkers and their families.

Twelve different organizations submitted a petition Wednesday calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the use of chlorpyrifos, a widely used insect killer. The EPA has been considering a ban on the chemical since October 2015, and the petition comes as the agency nears its deadline for a decision.

Chlorpyrifos is one of the most frequently cited causes for farmworker pesticide poisonings, according to the petition. In 2000, the EPA eliminated all home uses of the pesticide, but re-approved its use in agriculture. The agency’s own assessments have since found that many uses of the chemical put farmworkers at risk as well as contaminate some drinking water sources in heavily farmed areas.

“There’s something wrong with that picture. I think it’s about time the consuming public understands that farmworkers are literally giving up their lives and are working with dangerous chemicals to put food on the American table.” said Ramon Ramirez, president of Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Oregon’s farmworker union.

Chlorpyrifos has been used to treat everything from Northwest orchards and feed crops to golf courses and wood fences.

Scott Dahlman, a lobbyist for the farm and forest industries with Oregonians for Food and Shelter, says the chemical has been important in recent years to kill invasive insects that hurt the Northwest’s fruit crops. 

Dahlman called the petition for the ban “very unfortunate to see.”

The chemical kills insects by disrupting the nervous system. It blocks an enzyme that controls messaging between nerve cells. When that’s blocked, the nerves can’t send normal signals.

Research points to risks of nerve damage in humans, too, and the EPA’s latest assessment of the chemical shows a risk to workers who handle the pesticide.

Erik Nicholson, the National Vice President of United Farm Workers, based in Tacoma, said advocates like him have been working to ban chlopyrifos for years.

“It’s simply too dangerous. In spite of this information, EPA has failed to take the timely action necessary to protect farmworkers, to protect us consumers,” Nicholson said. “This is tremendously frustrating.”  

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