EPA Bans Pesticide That May Be Harmful to Children

The controversial chemical has been used on dozens of food crops. Here's what parents should know.

An image of a woman washing apples in a sink.
Photo: Getty Images.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned the widely used but controversial pesticide chlorpyrifos, citing safety concerns for children. The pesticide has been sprayed for decades on food crops like corn, soybeans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, fruit trees, and nuts.

"Ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food will help to ensure children, farmworkers, and all people are protected from the potentially dangerous consequences of this pesticide," said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a statement.

The safety of chlorpyrifos has been the subject of debate for years, particularly its impact on children's brains. Most recently, the EPA proposed banning the pesticide in 2015, stating there was evidence of neurological damage at levels below allowable limits.

But four years later, the Trump administration announced it would keep chlorpyrifos in use, saying there wasn't enough proof of neurotoxicity and that the pesticide was crucial to U.S. agriculture.

Environmental advocacy groups, as well as several states, challenged that decision in a court case. The result: This year, a judge ruled that the EPA must stop the use of chlorpyrifos unless it could prove it was safe, including for infants and children. The ban goes into effect in six months.

"Banning the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops is a win for child health," says Aparna Bole, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change and an associate professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. "Chlorpyrifos exposure in utero and during childhood is toxic to the developing brain, contributing to risk for neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits."

In a letter sent to the EPA this year, the AAP argued that the pesticide is dangerous for kids, writing, "Children are not little adults; they have unique physiological, behavioral, and developmental differences. Relative to their size, children drink more, breathe more, and have more skin than adults, which means that chemicals have greater access to their bodies; this promotes their exposure to and harms from chemicals. As they grow and mature, children may be especially vulnerable to certain chemical exposures within specific time periods of rapid developmental growth."

The group also pointed to studies that have found associations between pesticide exposure and developmental delays, reductions in IQ, autism, and ADHD.

So what about exposure your child has already gotten to this pesticide? It's important to remember that the proven health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticides in general. Dr. Bole adds that while policies to prevent toxic exposures are important, many other factors in your control as a parent that contribute to healthy development in kids. "Healthy nutrition, an enriching and nurturing environment, and high quality early childhood education are all examples of positive factors that help promote healthy brain development and learning," she says.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Parents advisor who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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