SACRAMENTO — As a deadline for comments approaches, farm groups are taking issue with a state proposal to further restrict use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
California regulators have set an Oct. 2 deadline for written comments and questions about their draft risk assessment for chlorpyrifos, which is used to tackle pests that can destroy some 60 different crops in the state.
The Department of Pesticide Regulation is citing the risk assessment as it prepares to ask counties to increase buffer zones around chlorpyrifos applications, and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment may list the pesticide as a developmental toxicant and require warnings to be posted.
California Citrus Mutual accuses the state of yielding to activist pressure and argues its risk assessment relies on modeling with unrealistic exposure scenarios, such as a child directly downwind of an application every day for 21 days.
“It just seems that they’re moving away from a well established approach of relying on sound scientific research and data and moving more toward this modeling approach that creates an overly conservative assessment,” said Bob Blakely, the Exeter-based CCM’s vice president.
Almond Alliance of California president Kelly Covello also said the analysis is to “conservative and extreme,” and argued it will lead to excessive buffer zones and limitations on use by growers.
“DPR should rely on validated methods, refine extreme and non-representative assumptions for potential exposure and make clear any specific analysis used to support any proposed increase in buffer zones that limit use for California growers,” Covello said in an email.
The assessment identified exposure from air near application sites as “the main driver” of developmental risks to children 2 and younger.
Charlotte Fadipe, the DPR’s assistant director, has said state officials understand the proposed new restrictions would have an impact on growers.
“Our job is really to ensure that as growers use these chemicals, they have to use them in a way that protects people and the environment,” she said in August.
The proposed new controls come after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt in March denied a petition by environmental groups to ban the pesticide’s use in agriculture. The EPA banned home use of chlorpyrifos in 2000 and ordered buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.
The potential controls also follow a drift incident involving chlorpyrifos that sickened farmworkers in Kern County in May. Fadipe has said the new proposal has been in the works since well before either Pruitt’s decision or the drift incident, as the state has been studying chlorpyrifos’ risks since 2011.
According to the agency’s new risk assessment, exposure from air near application sites was identified as “the main driver” of developmental risks to children 2 and younger. The DPR is using the document as a basis for developing recommendations that county agricultural commissioners increase distances between sites where the chemical is applied and sensitive locations and put new restrictions on methods used to apply chlorpyrifos.
As it is now, buffer zones vary by county, with the largest distance at 150 feet, but they could as much as triple if counties follow the DPR’s advice. The state is asking counties to set the rules to get them in place faster, as imposing a state regulation could take two years or longer, Fadipe said.
Meanwhile, the state’s Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee will meet Nov. 29 to consider whether to list chlorpyrifos under Proposition 65, the 1986 initiative that requires warnings to be posted when using chemicals that could cause cancer or birth defects.
For pesticides on the Proposition 65 list, warnings must be posted in the workplace setting for employees, while public warnings can be given by posting signs, sending notices to affected residents or publishing notices in a newspaper, according to the DPR.
Chlorpyrifos has been in use for decades on some of California’s most lucrative crops, including almonds, alfalfa, walnuts, oranges, cotton and grapes. But its use has been declining over the last decade as California has put significant controls on its use.
Existing law requires training, licensing and local county approval for anyone who uses it. For instance, growers must explain to their county agricultural commissioner when, where and how they want to use the pesticide.
Comments on the risk assessment must be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to the Department of Pesticide Regulation, Registration Branch, Risk Assessment Comments — Chlorpyrifos, 1001 I St., P.O. Box 4015, Sacramento, CA 95812-4015.