A bill to totally phase out the insecticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon by 2022 passed the House Feb. 19 over the objections of farm groups that argued the chemical is still necessary.
The bill passed by a 32-24 margin.
Supporters of House Bill 4109 claim the prohibition is justified because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations don’t sufficiently prevent negative impacts from the pesticide.
“This chemical is really taking a toll on the health of Americans,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene. “I’ve learned the EPA label is completely outdated and inadequate for protecting people.”
Critics of the bill argued that chlorpyrifos is needed for pest outbreaks on hazelnuts, berries, seeds, Christmas trees and other specialty crops for which alternative chemical treatments aren’t available.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture is already exploring potential new restrictions on chlorpyrifos after concerns were previously raised in the Legislature, and that process should be given time to work, according to opponents of HB 4109.
Under HB 4109, aerial pesticide applications of chlorpyrifos would be prohibited immediately, as would spraying within 300 feet of a school campus, before the ban takes effect in January 2022. Farmers would also immediately have to prevent workers from entering areas treated with the chemical for eight days.
A majority of House members rejected an alternative “minority report” proposal that would ban aerial spraying except in certain circumstances, such as during a quarantine or an invasive species outbreak.
Spraying within 300 feet of a school would still be prohibited under this alternative while worker entry into treated areas would be restricted for eight days though not disallowed entirely.
Rep. Shelly Boshart-Davis, R-Albany, said that prohibiting chlorpyrifos completely in 2022 would be extremely disruptive for farmers who face a “zero tolerance” for pests among foreign buyers.
For example, about 20% of Oregon’s Christmas tree crop must be entirely free of several pests for which there isn’t an alternative treatment, she said.
If Oregon wants to create an alternative to chlorpyrifos, lawmakers should dedicate money for research and for assisting farmers who are hurt by a prohibition, said Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond.
“With one swoop, we could really hurt them,” he said.
Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, said that chlorpyrifos regulations should remain under the “rightful authority” of the EPA and noted that alternative chemicals would require an extended time to develop and approve.
“That would not be complete by the time this ban comes into effect,” Owens said.
However, proponents of banning chlorpyrifos argue that the EPA had proposed banning most uses of the chemical but then reversed itself when the Trump administration came into office in 2017.
The agency’s decision was subject to a legal battle and the EPA now plans to finish an updated assessment of the chemical in 2022.
Lawmakers who voted in favor of HB 4109 argued that no level of exposure to chlorpyrifos is safe, regardless of the safeguards or personal protective equipment that’s used.
The insecticide has been tied to certain cancers, developmental delays and other problems in humans as well as harmful environmental effects on aquatic insects, birds and fish, according to supporters of the ban.
“Effects are often delayed and undetected for years after exposure,” said Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn.