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What Is Chlorpyrifos?

Update: Victory!
On August 9, 2018, the 9th Circuit Court mandated the the EPA ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days. No more will this toxic pesticide be used on our fruits and veggies. This is a monumental step towards protecting the health and safety of all people — but especially our children, rural families, and farmworkers.


Chlorpyrifos is a dangerous pesticide used in the U.S. and worldwide on staple crops like corn, wheat, soy, apples, citrus, and more. It is also widely used in recreational spaces like parks and golf courses.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates. Organophosphates were developed as nerve gas by Nazi Germany, when a scientist working on pesticides accidentally discovered one pesticide formulation’s neurotoxicity.

In March, the EPA was required to make a decision on the proposed ban of chlorpyrifos. However, despite a 2016 EPA report linking chlorpyrifos to a number of health impacts (see below), the agency refused the ban. The decision baffled organizations and the public; it is unprecedented for the head of the EPA to stand against the agency’s own scientists.

A coalition of organizations joined together to ask judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the decision. Final arguments were made mid-July. Now, the public awaits the court’s decision.

The Health Concern

Starting in the late ’90s, certain chlorpyrifos-containing products, like some lawn care and insect sprays, were phased out because of associated health impacts. However, chlorpyrifos is still allowed for use on foods and on crops used as ingredients in personal care products, among other uses.

In 2016, the EPA issued a report that found evidence of issues with cognitive development in exposed children, including links to attention difficulties, autism, intelligence declines, problems with the working memory, and increased odds of tremors.

The report also found that the levels of chlorpyrifos that enter our bodies through everyday exposure are of concern. Because we’re already over-exposed from food, there is no safe level of chlorpyrifos in our drinking water.

In addition, the pesticide may be associated with cancer in farmworkers who handle pesticides, Parkinson’s disease from background exposure to organophosphates, and negative health effects in birds, aquatic animals, honeybees, and wildlife.

Farmworkers, the people who harvest and grow our food, are even more exposed to chlorpyrifos than the general public. Rural farming communities are also more exposed. One study found organophosphate pesticides in the blood and urine of almost 9 out of 10 babies born in rural communities. The majority of their moms were more exposed, too.

How to Avoid It

  • Shop organic. Organic foods are not sprayed with harmful chlorpyrifos or other high-risk pesticides.
  • If organic food is outside of your budget, wash conventional fruits and vegetables diligently. Learn which plants and vegetables are most likely to have the most pesticide residues to help you determine which foods are an organic-must.
  • Don’t forget the organic wine! Grapes are commonly sprayed with chlorpyrifos, so choose organic options.
  • Take your shoes off when you enter your home. Pesticide residue can be tracked into the home through shoes worn outside.
  • Choose organic cotton. Cotton is commonly sprayed with chlorpyrifos. Swap out linens like sheets for organic MADE SAFE certified sets.