OLYMPIA — All current uses of the pesticide chlorpyrifos would remain legal in Washington until at least Jan. 1, 2022, under a bill passed late March 5 by the state House, which declined to follow the Senate in adopting a partial ban.
Instead, the House voted 88-9 to have the state Department of Agriculture review the pesticide’s safety and adopt rules if needed to protect human health. The House and Senate must reconcile their large differences for a chlorpyrifos-related bill to reach the governor’s desk.
Farm groups opposed the Senate’s partial ban, but are more supportive of the House’s proposal.
Washington Tree Fruit Association President Jon DeVaney said the Environmental Protection Agency should lead the evaluation of pesticides, but a study by the state agriculture department is better than legislators invoking a ban.
“A nearly two-year regulatory process allows for more detailed analysis and public comment than is possible in a legislative setting,” he said in a March 6 email.
Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, introduced SB 6518 to prohibit chlorpyrifos except for use on a handful of crops that are particularly reliant on the chemical. Senate Democrats passed the bill.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he was uneasy about legislators banning pesticides. His committee reworked the bill to charge the state agriculture department with determining whether current exposures to chlorpyrifos cause health problems. It’s a question the EPA has been researching for decades under several White House administrations.
A Senate spokesman said March 6 that Rolfes had not had time to study the details of the House bill. Previously, Rolfes, who’s chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, said she wasn’t interested in funding a study.
Chlorpyrifos has been registered for use in U.S. agriculture since 1965. The EPA banned chlorpyrifos to exterminate bugs in homes in 2000 because of concerns that exposure could harm infants and unborn children.
The EPA has resisted petitions and lawsuits to ban chlorpyrifos in food production, though the agency is re-evaluating the risks and says the review will be done by Oct. 1, 2022.
Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, who’s representing groups suing the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos, said the rule-making called for in the House bill “must stop use of this pesticide to protect our children from learning disabilities.”
“This bill puts Washington on track to end harmful uses of chlorpyrifos,” she said in an email.
California, Hawaii and New York have invoked bans of varying strictness. Washington, Oregon and California are among the states and private groups suing the EPA in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to bring about a total nationwide ban.
On March 6, the American Farm Bureau Federation and many other farms groups, including some from Washington, Oregon and California, filed a brief asking the appeals court to reject the lawsuit.
Farm groups are well aware of the “near-total prohibition in California” by the end of this year, but chlorpyrifos still will be allowed for some uses in granular form in the state, according to the brief.
Also, the brief states, “recent events in California should not be considered indicative of any reduced support or interest in chlorpyrifos.”
The beleaguered pesticide remains vital to farmers and is often the first defense against new pest outbreaks because of its versatility, according to the farm groups.
Chlorpyrifos is important for crops as diverse as Florida oranges, Georgia peaches and Oregon strawberries, according to the brief. Other crops that depend on chlorpyrifos include cotton, sugar beets, cherries, alfalfa, apples, cranberries, peanuts, peas, pecans, sorghum and soybeans.
Banning chlorpyrifos could raise trade barriers for exports and imports, according to the brief.