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Letters from Tom Udall

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Today I received a letter from Tom Udall and one from Deb Haaland on the same subject and I think Senator Udall's letter explains things very well. 

November 13, 2019


Thank you for contacting me regarding S. 921, a bill I introduced to ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

Chlorpyrifos was first registered as a pesticide by Dow Chemical Company in 1965 before U.S. laws imposed public health and environmental standards. Today, it is primarily used on fruits, including apples, strawberries, and oranges; nuts; vegetables including broccoli and Brussels sprouts; corn; and some grains. Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate and nerve agent, intended to act on the nervous system of insects. However, it can also act on the nervous system of humans and interferes with how nerves talk to each other, resulting in nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. In extreme cases, it can kill. Studies show that exposure to chlorpyrifos in utero or by young children can damage a child's developing brain.

To address health and environmental risks from chlorpyrifos exposure, in 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eliminated all homeowner uses, with limited exceptions. EPA also discontinued all use on tomatoes and limited use on apples and grapes. In 2002, EPA limited chlorpyrifos use on citrus and tree nuts as well as other crops. In 2012, EPA created no-spray buffer zones around schools, homes, playfields, daycares, hospitals, and other public spaces. In 2007, public health and environmental organizations petitioned EPA to ban all chlorpyrifos use because of the risks to human health. After years of study, EPA scientists agreed and, in 2015, EPA proposed to ban all chlorpyrifos food tolerances, based on unsafe drinking water contamination. As of December 2016, EPA reaffirmed its proposal to ban all chlorpyrifos food tolerances, based on prenatal exposures associated with brain impacts.

EPA has found there is no safe level of chlorpyrifos in drinking water. And washing and peeling fruits and vegetables exposed to chlorpyrifos do not guarantee safety. Developing fetuses and young children are the most vulnerable to brain damage from chlorpyrifos. Agricultural workers, especially Latinos in rural areas, are the most exposed. Despite EPA's unbroken series of findings that chlorpyrifos is unsafe, former EPA Administrator Pruitt reversed course in March 2017, denied the petition, and refused to ban chlorpyrifos -- claiming that the petitioners had not provided sufficient evidence that chlorpyrifos is unsafe under the statutory safety standard. The agency said it would continue to study chlorpyrifos tolerances as part of registration review -- to be completed by 2022.

The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 directs EPA to ensure with "reasonable certainty" that "no harm" will result from food, drinking water, and other exposures to a pesticide. If EPA can't make this safety finding, it must prohibit residues and use of the pesticide on food. Administrator Pruitt has not provided any evidence that chlorpyrifos is safe, and the law, therefore, requires him to regulate chlorpyrifos. But he has not.

As a result, I introduced S. 921, the Protect Children, Farmers and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2019, on March 28, 2019. The bill would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act by prohibiting the use of chlorpyrifos on food. Any food bearing or containing chlorpyrifos, including residues, would be prohibited from sale. And it requires EPA to take immediate regulatory action on any organophosphate if shown unsafe under FQPA standards. S. 921 was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, where it awaits further action.

On December 21, 2017, former Administrator Pruitt announced a reconsideration of the two federal safeguards that protect agricultural workers and children against dangerous pesticides. Both the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) rule and the Certification of the Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule are vital to ensuring that agricultural workers know how to properly handle dangerous pesticides and that consumers are not at risk of being harmed by those pesticides. If the WPS and CPA is removed, employers will be able to hire underage workers to apply dangerous pesticides like chlorpyrifos, and farmworkers will lose their right to information about the chemicals they are exposed to at work.    

In response, I lead a group of 28 Senators, urging Administrator Pruitt to not remove these crucial safeguards on March 12, 2018. The letter details the importance of the WPS and CPA rules and urges them to be maintained. Without them, workers will not have proper training on how to apply Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP) in or around homes, schools, and hospitals. RUPs are the most toxic pesticides used today, and misuse of those dangerous chemicals is a public safety risk.

Recently, I sent a letter calling on Administrator Wheeler and the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. The letter comes in response to a recent EPA decision to reject a petition to ban chlorpyrifos. Several states and public health groups petitioned for the removal of the chemical from the marketplace, but the EPA announced on July 18, 2019 that the agency would not ban the dangerous pesticide but would continue to monitor the safety of chlorpyrifos through 2020. 

Many public health, children's advocacy, and environmental organizations support S. 921, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Farmworker Justice, League of United Latin American Citizens, GreenLatinos, United Farm Workers, and many others. I have fought to protect the public from the dangers of toxic chemicals for the better part of my public service career and will continue to do so during the 116th Congress. 

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please feel free to contact me with your concerns regarding any federal issue by visiting my website at www.tomudall.senate.gov.  For more information, you may also visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall and receive up to the minute updates through my Twitter page at http://twitter.com/senatortomudall.

Very truly yours,
Tom Udall
United States Senator

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