Chlorpyrifos—The Latest Pesticide to be Phased Out

This past week I was going through my mail, and I opened a letter from EcoJustice about a new pesticide that was ordered to be phased out in Canada over a three-year period—despite the European Union and United States having already banned it.

The pesticide in question is Chlorpyrifos.  When I first read the word, it sounded like a modern-day Pokémon or Greek last name, but Chlorpyrifos is no joke.  The letter indicated that the pesticide had been linked to neurodevelopmental conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cancer, endocrine disruption, and health issues like dizziness and confusion.

Who is EcoJustice?

EcoJustice is Canada’s largest environmental law charity and they have been active since 1990 advocating for better environmental protections.  Stewart Elgie was the leading founder and the inspiration behind the idea had to do with his environmental law background and being involved in litigation related to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.  Since then, it has been involved in many precedent-setting cases that ensured increased protections for wildlife and habitats as a result of their mission to keep harmful chemicals out of the air, water, and ecosystems.

What is Chlorpyrifos?

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide that has been used since 1965 to keep away various agricultural insect pests.  Having exposure to Chlorpyrifos can cause both short-term acute health effects and possibly chronic adverse effects including a possibility of some effects on the nervous system leading to dizziness, loss of coordination, diarhhea, blurred vision, or, in extreme cases, unconsciousness, loss of bladder and bowel control, convulsions, or paralysis among others.

Health Canada has set in place a three-year window to phase out the use of Chlorpyrifos, while the United States Environmental Protection Agency has already banned it as a pesticide no longer suitable for use in the United States.  When they made that decision in the United States it was the result of multiple updated human health risk assessments over the span of ten years, whereas a potential reason for the delayed response in Canada might have to do with Health Canada’s regulation policies on pest control products which sets a 15-year cycle for re-evaluating existing pesticides on the market.

Pesticides Harm People Beyond Those Who Eat Them

If Chlorpyrifos is potent enough to impact the neurological development of children, then imagine the health impact it has on field workers and pesticide handlers who experience more potent levels of the pesticide.  While this makes sense, the first thing we think about when we hear agricultural pesticides is about contaminated food, but it is likely also harming people beyond those eating it.

My biggest shock in learning more about pesticides had to do with the disturbing language that was used in various reports, where regulators were no longer able to conclude that Chlorpyrifos posed “acceptable risks to human health.”