Cesar Lara: It’s time to ban chlorpyrifos

Posted on June 17, 2017 in The Monterey Herald

By Cesar Lara, Guest commentary

The agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos is a health threat to tens of thousands of Monterey County residents who work in the fields, as well as work or live near fields, including many dozens of our schools. Chlorpyrifos, used mostly as a component of Dow Agro Sciences’ Lorsban product, is a drift-prone insecticide that can also harm humans’ brains and nervous systems. It is especially dangerous for children.

Prenatal exposure can cause lowered IQ, behavioral issues and breathing difficulty, according to numerous studies, many done in the Salinas Valley by the UC Berkeley team known as CHAMACOS. One of the CHAMACOS scientists, Dr. Brenda Eskenazi, director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Environment Research and Children’s Health, has said that chlorpyrifos and its larger group of organophosphate pesticides “are poison and we have enough doubt about their safety that we need to be reconsidering their use.” UC Davis’ Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto likens the exposure of children to chlorpyrifos and other neurotoxic chemicals to a “a chronic, silent epidemic.”

So why isn’t chlorpyrifos banned for agricultural use today? A quick summary of chlorpyrifos protections’ history helps to answer:

2000 — After alarm over scientific studies connecting prenatal chlorpyrifos exposure to brain damage, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began phasing it out for residential uses, but allowed continued agricultural use.

2015 — After 15 more years of research, including dozens of studies on Salinas Valley mothers and their children, and with a little push from the courts, the EPA announced its intention to ban chlorpyrifos for agricultural uses.

2016 — For a second time, and again with prodding from the courts, the EPA issued another study confirming its intention to ban chlorpyrifos by March 2017.

2017 — Donald Trump became president and appointed anti-science, anti-environmentalist Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.

March 2017 — You probably guessed this part: Pruitt ignored his own EPA scientists and declined to ban chlorpyrifos. He presented no science demonstrating that chlorpyrifos was safe.

What followed has been hopeful, yet concerning.

On the hopeful side, the people of California rose up on Cesar Chavez Day, March 31, to call on the governor to ban chlorpyrifos in California if the Trump administration wouldn’t. Led by Safe Ag Safe Schools, the United Farm Workers and the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, the big Salinas news conference and rally that day was one of several across the state. Thousands of ban-chlorpyrifos-letters to the governor later, on June 5, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined six other attorneys general in calling on Pruitt to listen to his scientists and ban chlorpyrifos in the U.S.

What’s concerning is that thus far the governmental body that serves to protect Californians from pesticide harms, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), doesn’t appear to be listening to the scientists, the people or the attorney general when it comes to chlorpyrifos. The only public comment from the DPR that we can find is its spokesperson saying the state is not considering “an all-out ban.” DPR is acting as if it agrees with the actions of Scott Pruitt. How can that be?

The refusal to ban chlorpyrifos can’t justifiably be about “uncertain science.” Dr. Eskenazi points out: “We know more about chlorpyrifos than any other organophosphate.” The EPA’s November 2016 study found chlorpyrifos unsafe to use in any amount. The EPA found chlorpyrifos in the air at the Salinas airport at three times the federal health risk level. It also found chlorpyrifos residues on food at 140 times the children’s health risk level. Suppose the studies were off by 50 percent — by a half (an unheard of level of error!)? Are Californians OK with resulting threats of 1.5 and 70 times the federal health risk levels? Don’t think so.

Attorney General Becerra told the EPA’s Pruitt he should “put the health of the American people ahead of profits for companies.” And so should the state Department of Pesticide Regulation! Ban chlorpyrifos! In a battle of profits versus people — of Dow Agro Sciences versus the residents of California — we ask DPR the same question Florence Reese asked in her famous 1930s labor song: “Which side are you on?”

Cesar Lara is executive director of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council and member of Safe Ag Safe Schools.

Father holding son in lettuce field


Mark Weller

New reports: Monterey Bay Latino children on frontline of pesticide exposure


Salinas, CA – On Tuesday, Safe Ag Safe Schools, a coalition of parents, educators, farmworker and children’s health advocates, and health professionals will release a new report highlighting the growing case for the negative impacts of pesticides on children’s health, including in the Monterey Bay area. In addition, the group will highlight a second recently released report on environmental racism in pesticide regulations and enforcement.


The new report by the Pesticide Action Network, Kids on the Frontline, reviewed by renowned independent scientific experts, presents a summary of the best available research, and finds that evidence linking pesticide exposure to childhood cancers and developing brains has grown increasingly strong. In particular, the report highlights the especially heavy exposure burden faced by children in agricultural communities across the nation. In California, Latino school children face the greatest risk.


The second report by the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment, Right without a Remedy, shows internal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents that reveal EPA’s persistent unwillingness to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, regarding Latino schoolchildren’s exposure to dangerous pesticides.  The report focuses on material from Angelita C., et al. v. California Department of Pesticide Regulation (1999), named after the mother of an Ohlone Elementary schoolchild, who filed the lawsuit with several Monterey Bay and other California families.


Children’s health advocates say the reports’ findings warrant swift action from policymakers. In California regulators are considering comprehensive new regulations addressing hazardous pesticide use near the state’s schools, including schools in the Monterey Bay area.



Monterey/Santa Cruz Counties Contact: Mark Weller, 831-325-1681, mark@pesticidereform.org

National Contact: Paul Towers, 916-216-1082, ptowers@panna.org


WHERE:      Monterey County Government Center, 168 W Alisal St., Salinas


WHEN:        Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at 12:00 noon


WHO:          Dr, Ann Lopez, Executive Director, Center for Farmworker Families

                     Lauro Barajas, Central Coast Regional Director, United Farm Workers

                     Casimira Salazar, Migrant Teacher, Pajaro Valley Unified School District

                     Carole Erickson, RN, PHN, and Co-Chair, Safe Ag Safe Schools

                     Jesus Lopez, Community Worker, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.—Salinas

                     Ofelia Flores, Member, Lideres Campesinas

                     Cesar Lara, Executive Director, Monterey Bay Central Labor Council


VISUALS:     Crowd with colorful signs and posters


SPANISH:     Spanish-speakers available for interviews. Summary of Kids on the Frontline and full Right without a Remedy reports available in Spanish.

Mark Weller

SASS Members and Friends,

Please take just a few moments to submit a letter/email to the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) regarding Fumigant Notification policy by the public comment deadline of May 20. 

We have a right to know when hazardous drift-prone fumigants are applied near us, yet there currently is no state policy that requires notification of fumigant applications (except in a very limited way for methyl bromide)! 

DPR needs to see a flood of emails from us!

A template letter is below with the addresses you would need to email your comments.  The draft letter is similar to part of the letter submitted by Safe Ag Safe Schools (approved at the April 21 SASS meeting in Salinas), which we hope will be useful for individuals and organizations.

It's easy as 1-2-3 (Please don't take offense, but I'm spelling it out for the technically-challenged like me):

1) just copy & paste the email addresses (brian.leahy@cdpr.ca.gov, Randy.Segawa@cdpr.ca.gov) into a new email, then
2) copy & paste the letter, and
3) write your name and address under "Sincerely" (Please, don't use/leave my signature information on your letter!).

Also, it would be a big help in tracking our impact if you could blind copy me when you send your letter.

Thank you!