OLYMPIA — The momentum to ban chlorpyrifos in Washington may stall in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The chairman, Rep. Brian Blake, said Wednesday that he's uncomfortable with legislators prohibiting the pesticide.
Instead, Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he wants the state agriculture department to review chlorpyrifos' uses in Washington.
"My concern is substituting the wisdom of the Legislature for the wisdom of regulators," he said after a hearing on a Senate-passed bill that would partially ban chlorpyrifos.
"I think you're going to see a realignment of the bill directing the department to look at this," Blake said. "I have confidence that they have the relationships and reliance on science to do the review."
Blake's position sets up a potential conflict with the Senate, which voted in mid-February to make Washington the fourth state to ban or severely restrict chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide linked to harming the brains of infants and unborn children.
The ban's prime sponsor, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said she "wouldn't be excited" about waiting for or spending money on a study.
"I think that it really doesn't protect human health. I don't think it's going to help growers transition at the rate they need to," said Rolfes, who's chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Chlorpyrifos is an ingredient in 46 products registered for 96 uses in Washington, agriculture department policy adviser Kelly McLain said. The department has reviewed the safety of pesticides, but not on such a large scale, she said.
A review could take two years and cost an estimated $300,000, McLain said. "It's a rapid descent into a huge pool of information that would need to be collected and analyzed," she said.
The Environmental Protection Agency banned residential use of chlorpyrifos in 2000, but has resisted petitions and lawsuits to cancel agricultural uses. The EPA says it's reviewing the pesticide's safety, a review due to be completed in 2022.
California, Hawaii and New York have imposed bans of varying strictness. The Oregon House voted Feb. 19 to ban chlorpyrifos by 2022.
Corteva Agriscience, a major manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, has announced it will stop making the chemical at the end of the year. The European Union recently cancelled all uses of chlorpyrifos. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is among the state attorneys general pursing a ban in a lawsuit pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Farm groups say chlorpyrifos, registered for use in U.S. agriculture since 1965, is safe when properly applied, a position supported by the USDA and restated by growers at the hearing Wednesday in front of Blake's committee.
Washington Farm Bureau director of government relations Tom Davis said a review by the state agriculture department would take the emotion and politics out of whether to ban the pesticide.
"Cooler heads could prevail here and that would be much appreciated," he said. "We prefer the bill die, but if something moves forward, the department of agriculture using its expertise would be better than citizen-legislators making that review."
The Senate-passed bill would allow chlorpyrifos to continue to be used for mint, onions, sweet corn, Christmas trees, alfalfa, including seed and hay, and brassicas, including for seed and food production. Chlorpyrifos also could be used for nonfood and nonfeed uses. Other uses would be prohibited beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
The agriculture department could issue emergency permits for other crops, though that authority would expire at the end of 2025.
"We don't think the bill goes far enough to truly protect people," Columbia Legal Services attorney Andrea Schmitt told the House committee.