Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet for kids. But a toxic chemical lurking on the fruits and vegetables we feed our families every day is putting their brains at risk and poisoning agricultural communities.
Chlorpyrifos, a chemical belonging to a family of pesticides related to nerve gases, is linked to learning disabilities in children. Yet it is being sprayed in fields across the country and ending up all over our food supply, including kid favorites like apples, oranges and berries.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network first filed a petition to ban this toxic chemical from the U.S. food supply over a decade ago. Since then, new studies of the impacts of chlorpyrifos on human health have indicated that much smaller concentrations of the pesticide than previously believed—levels found in the diet of women and children across the U.S.—are dangerous.
Until recently, EPA was on track to ban the pesticide from U.S. crops. But shortly after taking office, the Trump administration reversed course. And our nation’s most vulnerable populations, from children to farmworkers, are paying the price.
A recent EPA assessment found that residues are commonly found on a variety of popular U.S. produce, consumption of these foods add up to as much as 140 times (equivalent to 14,000 percent) the agency’s target risk levels.
Washing and peeling fruit doesn’t make the problem go away—residues are also found inside produce like citrus and melons. And because chlorpyrifos is found on many different foods, daily consumption can reach risky levels. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable because young brains are rapidly developing and sensitive to impacts from chemicals.
At highest risk are farmworkers and their families, who work, live and attend school in close proximity to the fields where these pesticides are applied. This means chlorpyrifos not only affects the food they grow and eat, but contaminates the air they breathe, the dust in their homes and the water that they drink. These farming and agricultural communities are largely comprised of first-generation immigrants and migrant workers, whose voices often go unheard or ignored by state and federal decisionmakers.
EPA banned the chemical from roach spray and other household products in 2000 because of risks to kids, but continued to allow it to be used in the fields, endangering farmworkers and poisoning the food supply.
By refusing to ban chlorpyrifos, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt bucked his agency’s own scientists, whose analysis just five months prior found widespread risk to children from residues of the pesticide on food, in drinking water, and in the air in agricultural communities. And he did this without providing any new evidence showing that chlorpyrifos can be used safely.
This makes the motivations more than a little suspicious. Dow Chemical, the largest maker of chlorpyrifos, has close ties to President Trump. The chemical giant donated $1 million for his inauguration, and Trump gave the CEO the top spot on his American Business Council.
It all adds up to a blatant giveaway to a powerful industry that continues to profit at the expense of our nation’s children and agricultural families. And it must not be allowed to continue. NRDC, PAN and a long list of advocates for public health and farmworkers are fighting back against EPA in court to get this pesticide out of our fields and food supply once and for all.
It’s time to stop playing politics with the health and well-being of families and children. No matter how we vote, what we look like or where we live, there are some values that we all share. This should be one of them: a chemical toxic to children’s brains does not belong anywhere near our fruits and vegetables.