Chlorpyrifos is a common pesticide that has been widely used on crops such as soybeans, fruits, nut trees, broccoli and cauliflower since 1965. However, it has recently been linked to neurological problems in children.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement that the agency is taking an overdue step to protect public health by ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food. This will help ensure that the children, farmworkers and all other people are protected from the potentially dangerous effects of the pesticide.
Numerous environmental groups approved the EPA's final ruling, which will take effect in six months. The decision to ban the chemical in the market will likely face pushback in the industry and farming groups. (Related: Pesticide cocktails found to be more dangerous to bees than expected.)
While pesticides are designed to kill pests, they can also pose possible risks to people. To determine the risk, it is necessary to consider both the toxicity or hazard of the pesticide and the likelihood of exposure to it. Low exposure to highly toxic pesticides can be more dangerous than a high-level exposure to pesticides with relatively low toxicity.
The health effects of pesticides depend on the type. Some can affect the nervous system, others may irritate the skin or eyes and some can pose cancer threats.
Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide. It is made of white or colorless crystals and has a slightly skunky odor, like rotten eggs or garlic. It is used to control many kinds of pests, including termites, mosquitoes, and roundworms.
This pesticide may be harmful to the body if it is touched, inhaled or eaten. The chemical works by blocking an enzyme that controls messages traveling between nerve cells. When the enzyme is blocked, the nervous system can't send normal signals, causing it to malfunction until it eventually kills the pest.
Unfortunately, chlorpyrifos can affect the nervous system of people, pets and other animals the same way it affects target pests.
Signs and symptoms of chlorpyrifos exposure can appear within minutes to hours and can last for days or weeks. Exposure to small amounts of this chemical can cause runny nose, tears and drooling. Sweating, headaches, nausea and dizziness are also some symptoms to look out for.
Serious exposures to chlorpyrifos can cause vomiting, abdominal muscle cramps, tremors and weakness and loss of coordination. Others develop diarrhea or blurred or darkened vision. In severe cases, exposure can lead to loss of consciousness, convulsions and paralysis.
The EPA was more concerned about chlorpyrifos exposure in children as it was linked to changes in social behavior, brain development and developmental delays in laboratory animals. It affects the nervous system of young mice and rabbits more severely than it does adults.
By studying the blood of women who were exposed to chlorpyrifos, as well as the blood of their children from birth to three years, it was noted that children who had chlorpyrifos in their blood had more developmental delays and disorders than those who didn't.
Exposed children also had more attention deficit disorders, leading to the conclusion that children may be more sensitive to pesticides than adults.
Chlorpyrifos is especially dangerous because it moves to all parts of the body. The chemical itself is not toxic, but when the body tries to break it down, it creates a toxic form called chlorpyrifos oxon.
The chlorpyrifos oxon binds to enzymes that control the messages traveling among nerve cells. When chlorpyrifos binds to too many of the enzymes, nerves and muscles stop functioning properly and the body must make more enzymes to regain normal nerve function.
While the body can break down and excrete most of the unbound chlorpyrifos in feces and urine within a few days, chlorpyrifos that finds their way into the nervous system may stay there much longer and could show more long-term adverse effects.
Read more about the dangers of pesticides at Chemicals.news.