- The California Department of Pesticide Regulation found chlorpyrifos residue on fruits and vegetables being sold in the state, according to The Salinas Californian. The tests also found illegal amounts of other pesticides on produce grown in Monterey County. In all, 149 samples of 3,695 different types of produce had illegal pesticide residue, which was 4% of all the produce tested, the newspaper reported.
- In August, a federal appeals court ordered chlorpyrifos removed from the market within 60 days because of its association with developmental disabilities and other health problems. The U.S. Justice Department has asked for a rehearing of that decision.
- The California Department of Pesticide Regulation said in a statement that the results showed the vast majority of fresh produce it collected for testing met national pesticide residue standards. About 5% of the California produce samples had illegal residues, including kale and snow peas, the department noted. But none of those residues were at a level that would pose a health risk to consumers, it added.
Chlorpyrifos, created by the Dow Chemical Co. in the 1960s, has been used on a wide variety of crops, including strawberries, broccoli, grapes, almonds, oranges and apples. In California, it has often been applied to wine grapes, although the state's use has reportedly dropped by about 50% since 2005 because of the pesticide's association with health problems.
"There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos," according to a risk assessment from Environmental Protection Agency scientists. The pesticide has also been linked with lower IQ and developmental problems in young children.
The Obama administration proposed banning the use of chlorpyrifos on food in 2015, but former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed that effort last year.
Some farm groups, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, support the continued use of chlorpyrifos because they say it's effective on multiple pests and in some cases, "is the only line of defense, with no alternatives." Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said "chlorpyrifos helps farmers and consumers by improving production efficiency and contributing to public health and safety."
Although the residential use of chlorpyrifos was phased out in 2000, the ban on agricultural applications hasn't been in place long enough to have much of an impact on crops, production levels and prices. Also, the Justice Department's appeal of the ban is still working its way through the legal system.
It's not surprising that residues of the pesticide continue to show up in produce being sold in grocery stores, farmers markets, food distribution centers and other outlets throughout California. The pesticide has been widely applied to U.S. crops, with more than 640,000 acres treated in California alone in 2016, The New York Times reported. Chlorpyrifos has also been found in many American kitchens, according to researchers at Harvard University. They said it was found in 91% of homes among a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population in 2001 and 2002.
Should the ban remain in place, agricultural producers who use chlorpyrifos will have to find substitute pesticides or perhaps make the shift to organic production if no adequate substitutes are available. The California tests on organic produce found only 1% had illegal pesticide residues, but organic produce samples made up just 288 of the total 3,695 samples tested, The Salinas Californian reported.
If the ban is reversed, opponents of chlorpyrifos use are likely to double their efforts to rid it from the marketplace again on public health grounds. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, its regulation is also a matter of environmental justice because exposure disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities. The UCS said 50 California farm workers were sickened and some were hospitalized in May 2017 after chlorpyrifos drifted from where it was being used on a nearby property.
Consumers are not keen about having any pesticide residues on their produce, regardless of whether the levels are within federal limits. A 2015 Consumer Reports survey found pesticides in produce are a concern for 85% of Americans, even if there's no other feasible way to control pests and diseases. They also have — and are increasingly exercising — the option of buying organic produce. Agricultural producers should probably bear those facts in mind as this issue continues to play out.