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State Appoints Working Group To Help Growers Transition Away From Harmful Chlorpyrifos

Ezra David Romero
In 2017, nearly 20 percent of all the chlorpyrifos used in California was applied in almond orchards.

Last week, the State of California took its first steps to fully ban the harmful pesticide chlorpyrifos that can cause neurological problems and developmental delays in children. The ban means, however, that growers have to find alternatives for managing insects. Finding those alternatives is the goal of a new statewide group that includes members of the San Joaquin Valley agriculture community.

David Haviland is a farm advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension in Bakersfield. He’s been helping farmers control pests for 16 years, and he’s been appointed to the new Chlorpyrifos Alternatives Work Group established by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, or DPR. “This is an important topic,” he says. “Chlorpyrifos has had a lot of benefits to agriculture for many years. At the same time, it does have some negative issues associated with it that were the reason that the product has been proposed to be discontinued.”

The DPR, a division of the California EPA, announced the eventual ban on chlorpyrifos in May after listing the chemical as a toxic air contaminant and publicizing damning findings from a scientific review of the pesticide. "California’s action to cancel the registration of chlorpyrifos is needed to prevent the significant harm this pesticide causes children, farm workers and vulnerable communities," Cal EPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld was quoted as saying in a May press release. "This action also represents a historic opportunity for California to develop a new framework for alternative pest management practices."

As part of the cancellation process, state regulators promised to work with local agricultural commissioners and air districts as well as partner with growers to implement safer alternatives.

Credit California Department of Pesticide Regulation
After a peak of nearly 3.5 million pounds of the chemical applied in 1995, chlorpyrifos use in California dropped to less than one million pounds in 2017.

Even before the state began taking action, growers and researchers have been working for years on replacing chlorpyrifos. Indeed, the 950,000 pounds of the chemical applied statewide in 2017 represents a 72 percent drop from its peak usage in 1995. Although the industry has made great strides in getting rid of many pests using other, less harmful chemicals, David Haviland says, “it’s these last few pests that this working group is going to try to figure out how we can solve.”

Those solutions might include combinations of other pesticides to help protect the dozens of crops on which chlorpyrifos is still widely used, including tree nuts, citrus, grapes and cotton. Haviland says the group will prioritize the most urgent needs first: “Who’s really going to take a hit from the ban, and from there, what is the best way to go forward,” he says.

The working group consists of farmers, industry representatives, academics and environmental justice advocates from around the state. They’ll meet regularly until spring of 2020 before releasing a final report of recommendations. The state may take years to fully ban the chemical.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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