SALEM — Oregon may begin limiting uses of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in November and gradually phase out most applications by 2024 under a rule proposed by the state Department of Agriculture.
Chlorpyrifos is a common product that targets a broad spectrum of crop-damaging insects. Studies show exposure to it may have harmful neurological effects, especially in children.
In December 2019, ODA convened a 13-member work group to evaluate potential health and safety restrictions. Members represented industry and environmental groups, farmworker advocates and public health agencies.
The proposed rule was announced July 29 and will go out for public comment Aug. 3-Sept. 1.
“We looked at the whole package,” said Rose Kachadoorian, pesticides program manager for ODA. “How do we reduce that risk?”
While the rule calls for drastically reducing applications of chlorpyrifos, it stops short of a complete ban. Certain uses, such as cattle ear tags, seed treatments and granular forms of the pesticide to control soil-borne insects, would still be allowed.
Kachadoorian said cattle ear tags, which contain a small amount of the insecticide to drive away biting flies, are an important tool for the welfare and comfort of animals.
”We did not want to influence that use,” she said.
Beginning Nov. 1, the rule would prohibit spraying chlorpyrifos to control mosquitoes or other vectors on golf courses or inside greenhouses unless they meet minimum ventilation standards.
Unprotected workers, meanwhile, would not be able to re-enter fields within four days after the last spraying. The current restricted entry period for chlorpyrifos is 24 hours under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection Standard.
After Jan. 1, 2021, the rule becomes even stricter. Christmas tree growers could only spray chlorpyrifos between April 1 and June 15 each year to protect workers pruning, shearing and harvesting trees.
”We see this as something that is pretty positive,” Kachadoorian said. “It’s going to allow the farm to use (the pesticide) when they really need to use it, but will also give protection.”
Also beginning in 2021, only certified and licensed applicators would be allowed to spray chlorpyrifos. In the past, unlicensed employees could spray it if supervised by someone who is licensed. Mixing and loading chlorpyrifos could still be done by unlicensed employees, but only after they complete special ODA training.
Finally, 2021 will mark the beginning of larger buffer areas for spraying around sensitive sites or permanent bodies of water. For aerial applications or non-targeted air-blast sprayers, the buffer is 300 feet. For targeted air-blast sprayers, the buffer is 150 feet, and for other ground-based equipment, it is 60 feet.
After Dec. 31, 2023, it would become illegal to sell, deliver or use chlorpyrifos in Oregon except in limited circumstances. ODA would also allow spraying if the director declares a “pest emergency.”
Several states, including California, Hawaii and New York, have similar restrictions on chlorpyrifos.
Jonathan Sandau, a special assistant to ODA Director Alexis Taylor, said the phase-out approach is intended to give farms enough time to figure out alternatives for controlling pests.
”Chlorpyrifos is such a broad spectrum,” Sandau said. “Folks are able to use it to control multiple different pests.”
According to ODA, limits on chlorpyrifos are expected to pose minimal additional costs since many growers have already transitioned to less toxic alternatives. For those who rely on chlorpyrifos, the agency acknowledges it may be up to 33% more expensive to use an appropriate alternative.
ODA estimates the rule could affect 21,861 farms, or about 58% of all farms statewide. It may also impact 132 golf courses and 20 mosquito control districts that may use products with chlorpyrifos.
The rule is expected to reduce annual pesticide registration fees to ODA by $13,120. However, the agency figures it will save approximately $60,000 to $75,000 per year in chlorpyrifos investigations and lab expenses.
Jenny Dresler, a lobbyist for the Oregon Farm Bureau who served on the ODA chlorpyrifos work group, said members are evaluating the proposed rule and will provide feedback on impacts to their operations.
Chlropyrifos remains a critical tool for family farms in Oregon, Dresler said, especially for specialty crops like hazelnuts, berries, seeds and nursery plants for which there are no other approved alternatives. She added it could take 4-7 years for new alternative products to get through research and development.
“We’re a specialty crop state. Our pest pressures are different than they are from California or Hawaii,” Dresler said. “Our concern from the get-go has been around timing, and offering an appropriate off-ramp for producers.”