Agriculture

EPA may ban common pesticide used on fruits and vegetables

Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said state regulators want to apply a “broad-brush approach” that he called unfair. Alternative pesticides exist, but Nelsen said they’re not as effective and are more expensive.
Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said state regulators want to apply a “broad-brush approach” that he called unfair. Alternative pesticides exist, but Nelsen said they’re not as effective and are more expensive. Fresno Bee file

A common pesticide used on citrus fruits, almonds and other crops would be banned under a proposal announced Friday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposal would prohibit use of chlorpyrifos. California pesticide officials say that the use of chlorpyrifos has been decreasing over the last 10 years, but it still is applied to more than 60 different crops.

Fresno County, one of the state’s top agriculture producers, used 248,059 pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2013, the last year data is available. That makes the county’s farmers the nation’s No. 2 users, amounting to about 4 percent of the pesticide’s use nationally.

California’s agricultural industry has pushed back against state restrictions, arguing that misuse of the pesticide by some groups should not lead to widespread limits.

Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said state regulators want to apply a “broad-brush approach” that he called unfair. Alternative pesticides exist, but Nelsen said they’re not as effective and are more expensive.

The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and regulators say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide.

The EPA said it will take public comments on the proposal for at least two months, with a final rule expected in December 2016. The rule would not take effect until 2017 at the earliest.

The EPA said in a written statement that its current analysis does not suggest risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food. But when those exposures are combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, “EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act safety standard,” the statement said.

The EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos in 2000 and placed “no-spray” buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.

But environmental and public health groups say those proposals don’t go far enough.

More than 6 million poundsamount of chlorpyrifos used by U.S. farms each year – about 25 percent of it in California

The Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking a national ban on chlorpyrifos. The advocacy groups say the pesticide interferes with brain development of fetuses, infants and children.

Veena Singla, a scientist with NRDC’s health and environment program, said farmworkers and rural communities “continue to be in harm’s way” from the millions of pounds of chlorpyrifos applied to agricultural fields in California and other states.

“Every home, school and playground, whether it is in rural California or the middle of San Francisco, should have safe water to drink and clean air to breathe,” she said.

Bee staff writer Robert Rodriguez and Matthew Daly of The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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